Bold Plan Proposed to Overhaul Mojave

Artist concept of Mojave Air and Space Port terminal.
Artist concept of Mojave Air and Space Port terminal.

A detailed plan to turn the Mojave Air and Space Port from a dusty flight and rocket test center into a destination for researchers and tourists alike is making the rounds in the state capital of Sacramento.

The plan, created by the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) Hub at El Camino College, includes the development of passenger terminal at the spaceport, research park, business incubator, special economic zone, space-based education center, and a desert botanical garden.

Once implemented, the spaceport and small town that adjoins it would become a major hub for space transportation, manufacturing, flight testing, research and development, and education.

However, the proposal faces two main challenges. The first is not to destroy what makes Mojave ideal as a test center. The spaceport is remote, largely shielded from prying eyes, few people visit, and the small local population don’t complain very much about all the noise from the rocket engine tests.

CACT’s Joe Weichman, who prepared the Mojave plan, acknowledges that this is a significant challenge. He said he is working on some ideas that would allow Mojave to expand while not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The second challenge is to raise the nearly $700 million in public and private investment the report estimates would be required to make the vision into a reality. The table below shows some rough estimates for the cost of the plan.

Spaceport $250
Space Education Center $200
Research Park $125
Green Energy Projects $ 45
Water Reclamation Plant $ 30
Desert Botanical Garden $ 25
Caltrans $ 20

The plan includes some extensive improvements to the Mojave spaceport, which still has the look and feel of the Marine Corps training base it was during World War II.

“Some examples of expanding capabilities would include a space terminal (also serving as a visitor center), a state-of-the-art weather observation system, a multi-functional emergency response facility, an advanced communications system, an expanded/enhanced utilities infrastructure, runway modifications (in the form of an addition, extension and/or resurfacing), and additional land acquisition,” the report reads. “Specific details would come from those managing/operating the Mojave Air & Space Port.”

The spaceport would be turned into a special economic zone. that could include the following benefits for companies located there:

  • Investment tax credit of 25% for purchases on all machinery/equipment specific to spaceflight R&D and operations;
  • Investment tax credit for businesses that invest in infrastructure and related facility upgrades;
  • State income tax exemption for first two years of operation; and,
  • State franchise tax exemption for first two years of operation.

The research park would include a business incubator focused on start-up and early-stage companies. The research center would be tied into the state’s university system, and it would include the following labs and test facilities:

  • Propulsion lab & testing facility
  • Life support systems lab
  • Space habitation lab & testing facility
  • Space materials lab
  • Human physiology lab
  • Space energy lab
  • Clean room facility.

“Some standard activities between such entities at a Research Park include working together on R&D projects, technology transfer, cooperative equipment/lab access agreements, and more. To be utilized by the UC/CSU system, the Research Park would also house the business incubator,” according to the report.

The education center would be a major draw for tourists and a center of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.  It would include the following elements:

  • Planetarium
  • Two observatories — one nighttime, one solar
  • IMAX theater
  • Space elevator ride simulator
  • Hydroponics lab
  • Space exploration exhibit
  • Human physiology & microgravity exhibit
  • Astrobiology exhibit
  • Three space exploration simulators
  • Indoor skydiving facility.

“An education center focused on space would provide unmatched educational resources,” the plan reads. “It would be a substantial boost to informal science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, an area of substantial importance.”

The desert botanical garden would be another attraction for tourists while allowing scientists to conduct research work.

“With three major tourist venues, visitors would be encouraged to stay longer periods, and subsequently spend more money in California,” according to the plan. “The desert botanical garden would have a greenhouse on-site, and a ~55 foot (five-story) viewing platform. From the educational side, a visitor center would include three desert exhibits and two research labs, among other education-related offerings.”