A Mexican spaceport for tourism?

When people think of the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico, they usually think of resort destinations like Cancun and Cozumel, or exploring Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza. However, some people are proposing the region for a spaceport that could serve space tourism, according to a report in Sunday’s Stockton (Calif.) Record. When not training for a shuttle mission to the ISS next year, NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, a native of Stockton, has been advising Mexican officials who are trying to establish a national space agency. Part of those plans, according to the report, include “a commercial launch platform for space tourism in Yucatan, Mexico.” Legislation creating the Mexican Space Agency is scheduled to a vote by the Mexican Senate this week.

It’s difficult to take this development too seriously at the moment, given the information included in the article:

Hernandez said Yucatan, the location of the agency’s commercial space tourism launch station, is geographically ideal for frequent commercial use because it’s situated directly under the equator.

The close proximity into space means shuttles could carry more weight and save on fuel costs at the same time.

The problem here is that the Yucatan is most certainly not situated directly under the Equator. In fact, it’s on average about 20 degrees north of the Equator. That’s closer to the Equator than, say, Cape Canaveral, but farther north than the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. Moreover, for suborbital space tourism, latitude isn’t important, since you’re not trying to reach orbit; the position of the facility relative to the Equator is important only for orbital launches, where being closer is an advantage. Also, saving on “fuel costs” is traditionally not a concern for launch vehicle operators, since the cost of propellants is a tiny fraction of the overall vehicle cost.

Left unsaid in the article is perhaps the biggest issue: how much would this “launch platform” cost and whether the Mexican government is willing to pay for it. So don’t count on mixing some Cancun sun with some suborbital fun any time soon.

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