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Commercial Spaceports Roundtable

Tuesday’s agenda at CFS includes a Commercial Space panel beginning at 1:30 p.m. PDT. There is also a Commercial Space booth in the exhibition hall. As a primer for visiting the booth, below is a Commercial Spaceports Roundtable discussion, featuring Kevin McLaughlin, NATCA Commercial Space Representative and JSpOG observer, Mark Prestrude, NATCA EnRoute Technology Coordinator and JSpOG observer, Harry Bergmann, Space Operations Specialist and JSpOG member, and Garrett Carmen, Aerospace Engineer, Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and JSpOG member.

McLAUGHLIN: Why do we need all these spaceports and will they all be used?

CARMEN: Different spaceports are able to accommodate different categories of space vehicles.  The type of vehicle to be operated is frequently captured during the spaceport licensing process since most spaceports are collaborative efforts between spaceport operators and space vehicle operators.

BERGMANN: Spaceports provide the facilities and infrastructure for conducting commercial space operations. Most spaceports will see space activity since they are operator funded.  However, opening a spaceport is a complex financial and technological endeavor that requires overcoming multiple hurdles before becoming active and sometimes everything doesn’t lineup.

PRESTRUDE: Obtaining a spaceport license and a space vehicle license are two different processes with two different pathways requiring two different FAA LOAs. Some spaceports have been purposely built by vehicle manufacturers while others have attempted to get ahead by obtaining licenses in anticipation of finding a viable operator.

McLAUGHLIN: If the spaceport gets approved, does that guarantee rockets will fly? How many more spaceports are in process?

CARMEN: The spaceport license grants the approval to conduct operations but a vehicle operator must still obtain an independent launch free entry license for each vehicle platform.

BERGMANN: The Office of Commercial Space (AST) is always interacting with a variety of potential operators proposing to obtain licensing. Currently, there are three highly viable contenders plus an additional license being granted to an existing operator which is SpaceFlorida at Cape Canaveral. The new applicants are proposing operations in Titusville, Florida, Camden, Georgia, and Huntsville, Alabama.

McLAUGHLIN: After a spaceport is approved, what happens next in the process?

CARMEN: A space vehicle operator must propose operations from that spaceport and successfully complete a launch reentry license associated with that vehicle platform with AST. A space vehicle operator in the early stages of vehicle development could apply for an experimental mission permit, allowing them to conduct missions while maturing their technology and verifying their business case. 

PRESTRUDE: There are different concepts being employed to achieve orbital and sub-orbital missions. Among these are traditional vertically-launched rockets, “captive carry” missions using a fixed wing mothership, fixed-wing re-entry vehicles, and manned capsule re-entries such the Boeing Starliner.

McLAUGHLIN: We know the big companies that have been in business for a while like SpaceX, Virgin, and Blue Origin. Are there other entities on the rise that have a viable plan? What are other uses besides watching people and big satellite into orbit?

CARMEN: The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is composed of dozens of entities that have business models that will impact commercial space. Some are vehicle operators, some are brokers for rocket payload, and some are working on entirely different business models like a cube satellites aimed at distributing worldwide global Internet.

BERGMANN: Multiple companies are specializing in providing access to orbital flight for smaller players like universities, college and public school STEM programs. RideShare is an industry collaborative effort to provide access to the smaller entities that would otherwise be shut out of launch access due to limited financial resources.

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