What can Florida, Indiana, and others learn from Oklahoma?

As we noted here last week, Florida’s Cecil Field has its spaceport license but is still in search of customers, thanks to the limited number of companies whose vehicles are qualified to use it and the current state of the industry. Cecil Field will have to compete against a number of other current and planned spaceports to attract vehicle operators, like Mojave Air and Space Port in California and Spaceport America in New Mexico.

And yet more spaceports are in the planning and development stages. The Cecil Field announcement came along with word that two other sites in Florida, Kennedy Space Center and the little-known Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, a site in the Everglades with a single runway 3,200 meters long, are being considered by the state for spaceport status. Also last week, Indiana announced plans for its own spaceports, seeking to designate two airports as “primary” and “secondary” spaceports. HB 1227, introduced in the state’s House of Representatives, would also provide tax breaks for “space transportation technology” (and a tax deduction for the “loss of a space vehicle”) and require the state’s Department of Transportation to “develop policies and programs to encourage research and development enabling the ingress and egress into low earth orbit and near space from Indiana spaceports.”

People in Florida and Indiana—and other places contemplating spaceports—would do well to learn the lesson of Oklahoma, which a decade ago sought to lure companies to an abandoned air force base in the western part of the state. Rocketplane came to the state to take advantage of tax credits the state offered, and planned to fly from Oklahoma Spaceport, the former Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat. However, Rocketplane has since run into financial problems, and in an article in Sunday’s The Oklahoman, Bill Khourie, executive director of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority (OSIDA), seemed to suggest they were gone for good. “It’s basically old news,” he said in a video accompanying the article. “Rocketplane’s not around any longer.”

The state, while hoping to attract Armadillo Aerospace or XCOR Aerospace to the spaceport, is looking at more down-to-earth options for use of the spaceport. That includes aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul work as well as trying to get cargo companies like FedEx and UPS to make use of the airport. The article hints, though, that the facility’s future as a spaceport might be in jeopardy. OSIDA got just under half a million dollars in the state’s latest budget, but next year’s funding could come under scrutiny as Oklahoma, like many other states, grapple with fiscal problems. “I sure don’t think it will ever be a spaceport,” Rep. David Dank, a critic of the spaceport and the tax credits given to Rocketplane, told the paper.

In the Indianapolis TV station account of the plans to establish spaceports in Indiana, Brian Tanner, director of Space Port Indiana, a company planning to establish spaceflight operations from the state, claims that “it’s a near certainty that Indiana will become a hub for space research”. A decade ago, they were probably saying the same thing in Oklahoma.

2 comments to What can Florida, Indiana, and others learn from Oklahoma?

  • Khourie also mentioned a possible point-to-point collaboration with Spaceport America (in the video). That would be an interesting proof-of-concept, although the destination may not thrill may people (Oklahoma!).

    And that illustrates a practical limitation of SpaceShipTwo: for dead-stick landings, you need airports without a whole lot of traffic. I would think it would be difficult to bring them into the crowded skies over LAX or McCarren if you can’t waive them off for another landing.
    Maybe there are ways to do it, but it could be a challenge.

    I’m told that people who evaluated Rocketplane thought it had the best potential for point-to-point because if its engines. If they ever got the vehicles built, they would fly between Hawaiian islands, which I think would be a spectacular view.

  • Certainly I wish the best to Oklahoma’s Space Port. There have been a number of obstacles to the Space Ports’ Network and some of the early years brought uncertainty and no real direction. I think what you see today is a much more organized effort to link and collaborate the network which will bring opportunity for industry and private citizens to engage with activities. At Space Port Indiana, we have been working on an Air Space Management System (ASMS) that will be very robust and help create safe environments for commercial, private and scientific research collaboration. The ability for all airspace users to exist and conduct business without economic or policy barriers is just one successful milestone that pushes this new frontier across the finish line.

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