June 30, 2015 – The Houston Airport System (HAS) has been granted a Launch Site License from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that enables Ellington Airport (EFD) to establish itself as a launch site for Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLV), making it the 10th commercial spaceport in the United States.
Nearly two years after Houston City Council members gave their overwhelming support for the project, the FAA’s formal approval opens the door for plans that could see Ellington Airport become a focal point for aerospace operations, such as the launching of micro satellites, astronaut training, zero gravity experimentation, spacecraft manufacturing and a host of other potential activities, including as a future landing site for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft.
In March of this year SNC and the Houston Airport System announced a follow-on agreement to utilize Ellington Airport’s Spaceport as a future landing site for the Uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft – SNC’s solution for NASA’s Cargo Resupply needs and other critical space operations.
“Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems. “Through this agreement, we want to promote broad awareness of the importance of utilizing low-Earth orbit as a source of research, science and the expansion of space flight that are critical to Houston’s ongoing position as a Space City.”
In April of 2014, SNC and the Houston Airport System announced plans to explore potential applications and multiple economic development opportunities presented by the combination of a Houston-based space port and SNC’s Dream Chaser crewed variant – a spacecraft that can land at the space port directly from low-Earth orbit.
“The Dream Chaser spacecraft, with its unique horizontal runway landing capability, low-g entry and use of non-toxic propulsion, makes it an ideal test bed for biomedical, pharmaceutical, cellular and genetic research payloads,” said Arturo Machuca, the General Manager at Ellington Airport who has led the efforts to bring the spaceport project to EFD. “Houston, a leader in space-based biomedical research, is eager to work with SNC to sustain and advance these research opportunities in low-Earth orbit, then gently return them directly to Houston for immediate unloading.”
After working closely with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, HAS can now move forward in establishing the required infrastructure and support facilities needed to accommodate RLVs — which execute horizontal launches, rather than vertical, similar to commercial aircraft.
Situated near the Gulf of Mexico, and featuring more than 400 acres of land readily available for development, Ellington Airport is tailor-made for the requirements associated with an operating licensed Spaceport.
“We look forward to completing our vision to create an aerospace industry cluster at the Houston Spaceport,” said Machuca. “Now that we are officially the 10th commercial spaceport in the U.S. we are ready to work with our aerospace industry partners to take advantage of the unique location, infrastructure and human resources that the fourth largest city in the U.S. has to offer.”
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems business is based in Louisville, Colorado and is working with NASA to develop a safe, innovative, modern, flexible and highly-capable crew transportation system for the 21st Century. Dream Chaser is a multi-mission capable spacecraft can be used as an independent science platform, or as a logistics vehicle to retrieve, move, assemble or deploy items in space.
Colorado’s Front Range Airport is still awaiting FAA approval as a commercial spaceport.