Mid-September marked a somewhat historic event in the state of Texas when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a license for the Midland International Airport to build a commercial spaceport. This will be the first time a primary commercial service airport will also be cleared to host spaceships.
XCOR Aerospace will relocate its headquarters and flight test operations center from Mojave, California, to Midland where it will run suborbital tests of its Lynx rocket plane. XCOR President Andrew Nelson said the company hopes to provide rocket plane rides up to 38 miles in altitude by 2015 or 2016. Another year or two after, they plan on offering trips to outer-space altitudes.
This is the kind of thing we’ve been anticipating for a while now – commercial rocket trips available to the public for a high price. Leonardo DiCaprio already purchased a seat on a trip to the moon on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The same vehicle has already booked more than 500 seats on a flight that will loft passengers to an altitude of 360,000 feet at an initial price of $200,000 per ticket.
Space travel tends to come with a taboo of irrelevancy. Maybe it’s because some think we should be spending our money on existing earthly problems instead of seeking them out on Mars. Or maybe it’s because the high cost doesn’t seem to be worth it for the majority of humans who could never afford to travel to space.
Though it’s obvious normal people like us won’t be buying tickets to space anytime soon, there are other reasons to support the industry, even beyond the adventurous spirit that has always accompanied space travel. And even though it’s a seemingly random location, the Midland spaceport will kick-start a plethora of benefits to West Texas and the aerospace industry.
NASA is already proposing to contract with private aerospace companies to build and rent spacecrafts. NASA believes it will be less expensive to get crews into space if it rents rather than owns the vehicles to send them there. This means private companies will not be solely dependent on people with $200,000 to burn, but will have the government to keep them in business, too. NASA might not be sending its crews out of Midland, but the spaceport will be a factor in helping private companies grow and compete for those big contracts.
Finally, the economic benefit that the spaceport will bring along with it is undeniable. It’s not like Midland needs help boosting its economy with the current oil boom that has taken over. But an industry like aerospace with constant research and technology poured into an infinite frontier makes it seem more sustainable than the non-renewable resource industry we’ve seen go dry before.
This is an investment that will carry West Texas further into the future than we can begin to imagine.