Space 2013: A Very Busy Year Lies Ahead in Mojave

old_mojave_tower_snowI had only two wishes for Christmas. Can you guess what they were?

A trip to Hawaii? Well, yes. But, that really wasn’t—

Winning a $100 million lottery jackpot? That would have been great, to0. But…any other guesses?

The Eagles winning the Super Bowl? No, I gave up on that waaay before Christmas. I mean, what the hell happened?!

OK. Since you’re way off, I’ll just tell you: My two wishes for Christmas were to see SpaceShipTwo in powered flight and the Lynx making its first runway hop from the Mojave Air and Space Port by the end of the 2012.

Neither of these wishes came true. Which means 2013 –best known thus far as the year not wiped out by the Mayan apocalypse — just got a whole lot better.

Powered flights by these two suborbital space planes will no doubt dominate the news coming out of Mojave in the coming year. However, these programs are not the only ones going on at the burgeoning desert spaceport. This is going to be a very busy year on multiple fronts.

In addition to SpaceShipTwo and Lynx flights, Masten Space Systems will continue to fly its suborbital spacecraft from Mojave. Two tenants will be operating optionally piloted vehicles. And the roar of rocket tests and construction work will echo across the desert.

Construction Aplenty

Stratolaunch Systems has had the biggest construction projects on the airport over the past year. In October, it opened an 88,000 square foot production facility where composite sections of the wing and fuselage sections for the company’s enormous carrier aircraft are being designed and built. The building was completed two months ahead of schedule.

Even more impressive is the giant Stratolaunch hangar being built right next door. That structure which will house the largest aircraft in the world with a wingspan of 385 feet. (That is so wide that the plane’s wingtips will come within 18 feet of the airport’s control tower.) Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt says the hangar will open in February, also ahead of schedule.

Stratolaunch’s buildings lie along Taxiway B, the so-called Taxiway of Dreams because the airport built it before having any tenants to use it. The taxiway, which now services Virgin Galactic, could be getting much busier very soon. Witt says that two aerospace companies are interested in locating on the taxiway. Officials are now in the design phase for facilities to accommodate the new companies.

Infrastructure Enhancements

Three major infrastructure improvements are set to be completed in the first half of 2013. Runways 4/22 is being completely rebuilt from the ground up. The crosswind runway will be widened from 50 to 60 feet, restored to its original length of 4,746 feet, and outfitted with lights. Improvements also will be made to the shoulders and taxiway access.

The nearly $4 million project is being funded largely through a $3.5 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program.

Workers are also busy extending power, water and high-speed data services to the north side of the spaceport under a $1.3 million project. The area contains the Mojave boneyard, where old aircraft are recycled, as well as test areas used by Interorbital Systems, Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites, Whittinghill Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace and Virgin Galactic. Four tenants have agreed to connect to the new services.

Witt says the high-speed data links will allow companies to view test results in real time not only at their facilities on the south side of the airport but anywhere in the world. This will greatly enhance Mojave’s attractiveness as a test site.

Witt expect tenants to hire an additional 50 employees as a result of the upgraded services and to construct new buildings and facilities. The upgrades will increase the value of land, allowing the airport to charge higher rents. The airport also plans to build a new solar collecting facility, which will send power back into the electrical grid.

In April, the airport expects to open up Building 137, a.k.a., the Pool Building. The large structure is being renovated into a community center where company events, meetings and other activities can be held. Officials have been negotiating with a health club to occupy part of the structure.

The building renovation is part of a much broader Chamber of Commerce led effort called Revitalize Mojave, which is aimed at improving conditions in the town that adjoins the spaceport. Improvements in the town are seen as vital to helping companies attract and retain employees.

It’s the Law

There are two legislative items on the agenda for 2013. Last year, the California Legislature approved an informed consent law that Witt promoted that provided legal protections for spacecraft builders and operators in the event that they injure or kill passengers during flights.

The original draft of the bill prohibited lawsuits except in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm. The measure that was eventually signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown provides passengers and their heirs with the ability to sue under limited civil liability standards. Witt wants to see the law amended.

Witt will also lead another legislative effort as chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Strict laws make it difficult for companies making space vehicles to export them overseas. Although the government has eased restrictions on satellites, Witt believes more needs to be done for space companies in Mojave and elsewhere.