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Colorado officials eye spaceport at Front Range Airport
December 8, 2011
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  • December 7, 2011 By Greg Avery
    Colorado aerospace and economic development officials envision turning Front Range Airport into a hub for private space travel and space tourism.
    Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday announced the idea of certifying the Adams County airfield, six miles from Denver International Airport, as a spaceport where space planes lift off carrying tourist and other commercial passengers.
    Colorado’s government expects to hear back from the Federal Aviation Administration about the spaceport application in a year, he said.
    “These are the opportunities, like cell phones in the early 1990s, that seem far fetched but may not be all that far away,” Hickenlooper told an aerospace industry audience attending the Space Roundup conference held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “The potential here is huge.”
    New Mexico, Hawaii and other states have already won FAA certification for spaceports. The idea of having one in Colorado has circulated for years.
    The impetus for applying for spaceport certification now is the result of serious interest on the part of out-of-state companies preparing for future space tourism, said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
    The companies, which Clark would not identify, are working on a spacecraft that takes off horizontally from a runway like a plane but then, tens of thousands of feet into the air, lights a booster rocket capable to taking passengers past the upper reaches of the atmosphere, Clark said.
    That would open up the possibility not just of space travel to ordinary – but wealthy – people, but also of ultrafast travel to points on Earth, he said.
    “Once you light that thing, then you’re in Sydney [Australia] in an hour and a half,” Clark said. “We in Colorado like to brag about being able to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. This would let us boast we can ski in morning and be surfing just after lunch – that’s the future these people are talking about.”
    Front Range Airport has thousands of undeveloped acres as a selling point – a location that’s isolated but conveniently close to the metro area, Hickenlooper said.
    That’s a big distinction from Spaceport America, in a remote area of southern New Mexico more than 90 minutes from the nearest community.
    A spaceport close to DIA could help attract well-heeled customers willing to spend the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per-seat that early space trips will cost, Clark said.
    Such space tourism isn’t yet a reality, but the aerospace industry is pushing to make it one.
    Companies in talks to join the NASA-backed Aerospace and Clean Energy (ACE) Manufacturing and Innovation Park being developed in Loveland have expressed the desire to have a spaceport in the state, too, said Elaine Thorndike, CEO of Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology. The association is organizing the ACE park.
    How soon companies can make good on the promise of private space travel isn’t clear.
    But pushing for a Colorado spaceport now makes sense for a state where the space industry is so ingrained, said Michael Gass, CEO of the Centennial-based United Launch Alliance, the primary rocket launch company for federal government satellites and space probes.
    “You’ve got to have all the options available to you,” Gass said. “Being in on the ground floor is important. You can’t miss out on opportunities.”

    Date: 2011-12-07