Some of the biggest names in commercial space were in Houston last week to address and collaborate on key issues facing this rapidly evolving sector of the space industry.
Top executives from Boeing, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Paragon, Sierra Nevada Corporation and XCOR Aerospace, plus a host of suppliers and subcontractors, are working together to forge a more affordable and accessible space industry to serve a range of government and private customers.
And they are getting close to delivering.
New space vehicles with names like SpaceShip Two, Dream Chaser, Dragon, Lynx and New Shepard will, someday soon, be regularly populating air traffic radar screens at certified space ports around the world.
The gathering was co-hosted by the Houston Airport System who is, itself, seeking FAA commercial spaceport licensing for Ellington Airport (EFD), and is looking to engage with these industry innovators on home turf.
A space port in Houston. “Well, of course,” you might think. Where else would you put one? After all, this is Space City, right? The home of human space flight. Ok, maybe in Florida, too…after all, they know a thing or two about launching and landing space vehicles.
Truth be told, Houston might become the second city in Texas to score spaceport status, behind Midland who has applied for status, as well, and behind other states already there, including California, New Mexico and Florida.
At first glance, it looks like good old Space City is a little late to the dance. But the night is still young, and the city of Houston could still very well wind up being the belle of the ball.
While the primary focus of this commercial space surge is on solving the basic transportation problem of getting to space and back, there is also the challenge of developing viable markets, above and beyond taxpayer funded government programs, to sustain affordable, available access to space.
The first market that generally comes to mind is space tourism. Without yet making its first flight to space, Virgin Galactic has demonstrated a clear serviceable market with over 650 passengers with reservations to fly on the world’s first commercial space liner. But the commercial opportunities associated with space flight also include a wide range of science, medicine, energy, technology, applied research and educational applications. And there is not a more rich, and diverse foundation for the development of commercial space applications in the world than right here.
Houston is home to essential industries of the future like energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, and transportation, with legitimate world leadership status in medicine, nanotechnology and education. The Johnson Space Center is home to a world class orbiting research facility, the International Space Station.
With all of this and a local space port, Houston will be well positioned to become a major market hub for a new era of space enterprise.
While others are focused on getting there and back, it seems like a good time for someone to focus on what we can do when we get there. Space City, that’s our cue.
Jeff Carr is the senior vice president of aerospace communications for Griffin Communications Group. He is the former director of communications for the United Space Alliance and was the director of public affairs and news chief at the Johnson Space Center.