Mojave: The Once and Future Spaceport

Sunset from the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

At some point in the next six months, the Mojave Air and Space Port could experience something that not happened here in 13 long years: an actual spaceflight.

Richard Branson is predicting that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity could reach space on a flight test from Mojave by December. For once, his prediction does not appear to be based on unrealistic hopes, the need to reassure customers about delays, or a complete misunderstanding of what is happening on the ground here.

In other words, it’s actually plausible. Whether it will happen on that schedule…that’s another question. Flight test is notoriously unpredictable and very tough on timetables.

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Spaceport America Tax: The Levy that Keeps on Taking

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building with a security fence around it. (Credit: Alex Heard)

Residents of New Mexico’s Dona Ana and Sierra counties will continue to subsidize Spaceport America’s operating budget for at least another year.

The New Mexico Finance Authority agreed to let the spaceport for one year use extra money from the taxes that shoppers pay in two Southern New Mexico counties. But the spaceport wanted the excess tax money in perpetuity, a proposal that the finance authority declined to grant as its chairman raised questions about the facility’s financial strength.

Though some politicians have supported the spaceport’s proposal, others have argued the tax money was only intended to help build the facility, not cover its day-to-day expenses.

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Queen’s Speech to Include UK Spaceports

Credit: Discover Space UK

Queen Elizabeth II will give an address to Parliament on Wednesday that will include plans for legislation authorizing spaceports and the launching of satellites from the United Kingdom.

Powers planned by the Government aiming to pave the way for commercial space flights in Britain will be included in the Queen’s Speech alongside a raft of investments in transport infrastructure.

The legislation, according to Department for Transport (DfT), will allow the launch of satellites from the UK for the first time, horizontal flights to the edge of space for scientific experiments and the establishment of spaceports in regions across Britain….

But one Bill will concentrate specifically on the future of spaceflight technology in Britain. The DfT believes the new powers – to be outlined on Wednesday – will allow UK companies access to a wide range of new spaceflight, including vertically launched rockets, spaceplanes, satellite operation and spaceports.

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China Eyes Reusable Boosters, Lifting Bodies & Foreign Launch Sites

Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

China’s surging space program is developing reusable launch vehicles and the construction of equatorial spaceports to better compete on the international market.

The processes under development include parachute-landing and propulsion-landing, said Lu Yu, director of Science and Technology Committee of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2017).

Reusable lift-body launchers will be developed in three stages — rocket-engine partial reusable vehicle, rocket-engine full reusable vehicle and combined cycle-engine reusable vehicle, said Lu….

According to Lu, a low-cost commercial medium launch vehicle, the Long March-8. is under development, and based on the Long March-8, a new high-orbit medium launch vehicle should be designed to improve the Long March series and enhance competitiveness.

China will also enhance cooperation by renting foreign launch sites to improve launch flexibility, building international launch sites at equatorial regions, and developing sea-based launch platforms with other countries, he said.

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Georgia Governor Signs Legislation for Camden County Spaceport

George Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation in support of a spaceport in Camden County.

The Georgia Space Flight Act, which the General Assembly passed overwhelmingly in March, will give operators of a planned commercial spaceport in Camden County, Ga., the same liability protections that already exist in states competing with Georgia to host commercial rocket launches. House Bill 1 sets a strict legal standard for a plaintiff, likely a space tourist, injured while riding in a spacecraft to collect damages in a lawsuit.

“Commercial space flight is the next great space race,” said Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden project leader Steve Howard, who attended Monday’s bill-signing ceremony. “It is a $320 billion industry that offers tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs. By signing this legislation today, Gov. Deal is sending a message to the global space industry that we are open for business.”

Camden County is working closely with Arizona-based Vector, a small satellite launch company founded by veterans of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch. Vector, which is planning to conduct a test launch of a suborbital rocket at Camden as early as this summer, launched its first test rocket last week in California’s Mojave Desert.

“The signing of [House Bill] 1 not only represents the huge strides taken in developing space flight legislation,” said Jim Cantrell, Vector’s co-founder and CEO. “[It] also demonstrates the viability of Spaceport Camden to support Vector’s goal of developing hundreds of launches a year.

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MOU Signed to Study Campbeltown Spaceport

Credit: Discover Space UK

ARGYLL, Scotland (Discover Space UK PR) — Leading UK Space science and technology firms QinetiQ and Telespazio VEGA UK have agreed Memorandum’s of Understanding (MoU) to work with Discover Space UK on investigating the potential for a horizontal launch spaceport at the Campbeltown site on the West Coast of Scotland.

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UK Unveils Spaceport Laws


LONDON (Department of Transport PR) — British scientists will be able to fly to the edge of space to conduct vital medical experiments under new powers unveiled this week.

Laws paving the way for spaceports in the UK will allow ‎experiments to be conducted in zero gravity which could help develop medicines.

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Britain Spaceport Legislation Stalled By Brexit

Political wrangling over Brexit — Britain’s decision to leave the European Union — has caused a delay in planned commercial spaceport legislation announced by Queen Elizabeth in her speech to Parliament last May.

The government said there was currently no timetable for the introduction of the bill….

Legislation concerning space is reserved to Westminster.

The UK’s government’s Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for the Modern Transport Bill, which would set regulations for driverless cars as well as allowing UK aerodromes to access space.

It told BBC Scotland that it had been working hard on the bill but parliamentary time had been limited by events such as Brexit and the discussions over triggering Article 50.

A spokeswoman for the DfT said: “The final date for the introduction of the Modern Transport Bill will be announced in due course.

“We are creating the legislative and regulatory framework to allow the development of spaceports in the UK. It will be for the market to decide where the first spaceport will be established.”

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Georgia Senate Passes Spaceflight Limited Liability Measure

The Georgia Senate has passed a limited liability law for human spaceflight as part of an effort to establish a spaceport in Camden County.

Other states seeking to get in on the growing commercial space industry have adopted legislation requiring plaintiffs to prove “gross negligence” in order to collect damages, a tougher standard than “ordinary negligence,” and Georgia should do the same in order to compete for space business, said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the bill’s chief sponsor….

The proposed Spaceport Camden could create more than 2,000 jobs in an economically stressed part of Georgia, while at the same time serving as a catalyst for companies involved in the commercial space industry in metro Atlanta.

An environmental impact study spearheaded by the Federal Aviation Administration that began late in 2015 is due to produce a draft report by the end of this year….

Also this week, a committee in the Georgia House of Representatives passed an identical bill offering liability protection for spaceport activities.

Meanwhile, the FAA is moving ahead with an assessment of the proposed coastal spaceport.

During an update of the ongoing study released this week, Stacey Zee, a FAA environmental specialist explained the status of the ongoing work.

“The team has been working hard over the past few months to develop the draft EIS and write reports based on the cultural resource surveys and wetland surveys that we completed in the fall,” Zee said.

A survey has been conducted to determine if there are any jurisdictional wetlands on the site for the proposed spaceport. The Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with reviewing and verifying the information, she said.

The team will also begin consultations with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to discuss endangered species and potential impacts from rocket launches from the site.

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State Senate Committee Supports Camden County Spaceport Legislation

spaceport_camden_logoSome good news for supporters of a spaceport in Camden County, Georgia.

The Senate Study Committee on the Camden County spaceport is recommending passage of legislation “that sends a clear signal to the commercial space industry that Georgia is open for business.”

The committee held three meetings before announcing its recommendation Thursday, including one in Camden County, where it heard testimony from supporters and opponents of the Georgia Space Flight Act.

The legislation requires companies in the business of launching rockets in Georgia to train their employees so they understand the risks associated with space flight. Basically, workers in the space flight industry in Georgia will waive the right to sue the companies they work for unless gross negligence can be proven.

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Virgin Galactic, ALTEC Sign MOU to Study Italian Spaceport

SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

ROME (ASI PR)– ALTEC S.p.A., the Italian engineering and logistics service provider for the International Space Station, and Virgin Galactic LLC, the US spaceflight company within the Virgin Group, announced the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed to study experimental sub-orbital spaceflight in Italy.

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Obama Signs Law to Prevent Encroachments on Nation’s Spaceports

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President Barack Obama has signed into law a measure that will help the nation’s growing legion of spaceports fight the encroachment of obstacles such as transmission lines that could endanger suborbital spacecraft.

The measure, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), was inspired by a problem experienced by the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is in the Congressman’s district. A utility company built extra tall transmission towers near the airport, sparking safety concerns among officials there.

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GAO: Spaceport Operators Confused Over Insurance Requirements

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A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review has found that the nation’s spaceport operators are confused about the insurance they should have for launch accidents.

“Specifically, several spaceport operators GAO interviewed said that, based on their interpretation of the financial responsibility regulations, they were unsure whether their property would be covered under a launch company’s insurance policy or whether they would need to purchase their own insurance for their property to be covered,” the report states.

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Camden County JDA Approves $750K for Spaceport

spaceport_camden_logoThe Camden County Joint Development Authority voted last week to provide $750,000 for the establishment of a spaceport in Georgia.

Before the vote, authority chairman Charlie Smith told members they had an obligation to approve the funding request from the Camden County Commission.

“Refusal would be a slap in the face of the people who are funding us,” Smith said. “It would be a tragedy for us not to abide by the county commission’s request.”

Earlier in the meeting, the board allowed county resident and vocal spaceport critic Steve Weinkle to speak. He said the commissioners’ request for JDA funding was “distressing,” but not surprising. It is an indication the county did a poor job planning, he said.

The county has already spent about $3 million to establish a spaceport and Weinkle predicted the county will have an empty piece of property by the time the process ends. He also questioned if commissioners believe the authority is doing its job to bring new employers to the county.

“It’s a bottomless pit,” he said. “We’re spending our future for the spaceport.”

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