The promise of blasting thrill-seeking tourists into space is fueling an unprecedented rush to build snazzy commercial spaceports.
The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing proposals from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas to be gateways for private space travel. Depending on how environmental reviews and other requirements go, approval could come as early as this year and the sites could be ferrying space tourists soon after.
The current spaceport boom recalls the mid-1990s, when the first spaceport fad generated hype but no real construction. Finally, technology may have caught up with starry-eyed plans.
Aerospace designer Burt Rutan, who is building a commercial spaceship fleet for British space tourism operator Virgin Galactic, recently expressed his amazement at the flurry of proposals.
"It's almost humorous to watch the worldwide battle of the spaceports," Rutan mused earlier this month at the International Space Development Conference.
For decades, spaceports have been used mostly by NASA and the Pentagon to rocket astronauts and satellites into orbit.
Traditional launch ranges are often spartan mixes of lonely launch pad towers, concrete runways and aircraft hangars. Many are located in remote coastal areas Florida's Cape Canaveral being the best known so that debris won't hit populated areas.
The current spaceport boom promises futuristic complexes that evoke the Jetsons. But cashing in requires a gamble.
None of the private rockets under development has been test-flown. And even once the FAA licenses any vehicles, the infant industry initially will not boast multiple daily flights at $100,000 (Ђ77,435) to $250,000 (Ђ193,588) a head, the market is decidedly limited.
For states that invest early, however, the long-term economic benefits could be substantial. A recent study commissioned by New Mexico predicted that its proposed hub could net $750 million (Ђ581 million) in revenue and up to 5,800 new jobs by 2020. States with spaceports anchored by a reliable spaceliner and designed like a galactic Disneyland also could be a magnet for high-skill, high-wage labor and sprout cottage industries, reports AP.
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