MSNBC reports, in a surprising development, that PlanetSpace is in negotiations with the state of Ohio about establishing a spaceport at a cargo airport on the outskirts of the state capital, Columbus. Rickenbacker International Airport, a former Air Force base that is today a cargo and passenger charter airport, would be the landing site for suborbital flights of PlanetSpace’s Silver Dart vehicle, and potentially also serve as a manufacturing site for it. Local and state government officials are in negotiations with PlanetSpace on an investment package potentially worth up to $20 million.
A few items of interest from this article: This is the first time that I can recall PlanetSpace saying that they plan to use the Silver Dart, which they originally proposed for orbital missions for NASA’s COTS demonstration program, for suborbital flights. Previously, they planned to use a capsule that would splash down (that capsule is still shown on the PlanetSpace web site.) That approach does make sense, though, if they’re still interested in developing the Silver Dart for orbital flights, which they are (chairman Chirinjeev Kathuria told MSNBC’s Alan Boyle that they’re still interested in NASA’s COTS program once it moves out of its current demonstration stage.) The Ohio site would not be used for orbital operations: PlanetSpace is still planning on developing a spaceport for that in Nova Scotia, as announced this summer.
Another issue is flight operations of the suborbital Silver Dart. PlanetSpace doesn’t intend to conduct launches from Rickenbacker, instead launching “from a floating barge or from a land-based pad”. Unless SilverDart has significantly different flight characteristics than other early-generation suborbital vehicles, which have limited crossranges, that launch site would have to be relatively close to the airport; perhaps no more than a few hundred kilometers. (Maybe Lake Erie?) That means that PlanetSpace may require two different spaceport licenses, one for launch and one for landing—which could be further complicated if the Canadian-American company decided to carry out launches from, say, Southern Ontario or the Canadian side of Lake Erie. Coordination with air traffic control would also pose more problems than for spaceports in California, New Mexico, or Oklahoma, especially since Rickenbacker is about 20 kilometers from Port Columbus International Airport, the city’s main passenger airport.
There’s also the question of where the money will come from for PlanetSpace to develop the Silver Dart and its Canadian Arrow-derived launcher. Kathuria, the article notes, is a millionaire who has had success in several industries (although a previous space venture he invested in, MirCorp, didn’t turn out so well). Apparently PlanetSpace’s funding is not a concern for Ohio officials, who cited “Kathuria’s confidential list of partners and backers” as one of the reasons why they’re in serious negotiations with the company.