I don’t think I ever got to write a story about space before, but states will have a larger role than most people realize now that the Shuttle program has ended. My Stateline piece explains:
Five of the eight Federal Aviation Administration licenses to launch rockets into space belong to state governments. (Federal agencies, such as the Air Force and NASA, do not need FAA licenses.) The state-run sites, in addition to Wallops Island, are in Florida, Oklahoma, Alaska and New Mexico. Other jurisdictions in Florida and California hold licenses, too.
But the license is no guarantee of commercial success, especially with so many of the facilities angling for the same customers.
A few of them make their pitch:
Wilson ticks through the advantages he thinks will put the New Mexico facility above its competitors: clear skies and high elevation; proximity to protected air space and research talent at the nearby White Sands Missile Base; and thousands of square miles of sparsely populated land in the area.
And, of course, the facility is brand new. “We always say that Spaceport America is the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport,” Wilson adds. “We’re being built from the ground up.”
In Oklahoma, though, pre-existing facilities are the selling point. Bill Khourie, executive director of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, argues that the state’s converted Strategic Air Command base offers benefits that cannot be found anywhere else, including control over its own, non-military airspace and a runway that is nearly a mile longer and 100 feet wider than the one in New Mexico. The Oklahoma Spaceport’s control over its airspace means missions would not have to be scrubbed when the military launches missions of its own, Khourie says.
In Khourie’s view, the sheer size of the runway—roughly comparable to that of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.— is crucial for experimental spacecraft now being developed. “If you’re an engineer, you don’t have to design a high-lift wing with slats and flaps (in order to) reduce your take-off roll or your landing roll,” Khourie says. “So spend your money on other components of the vehicle.”
The Virginia facility operated by MARS presents different selling points. It boasts about its launch trajectory. When rockets take off from Florida, they travel up the Eastern seaboard, across western Europe and then over the Middle East. For private operators, that path across so many populated places drives up the price of insurance. Rockets that lift off from Wallops Island, though, arc over the Atlantic Ocean and remain above water, except a brief time over Brazil.