Stennis Airport a spaceport?

The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission has commissioned RS&H Inc. to study the feasibility of obtaining a Launch Site Operator License that could open the door to commercial space flight out of Stennis International Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration has developed regulations that enable airports to host operations of reusable launch vehicles that take off and land like aircraft. Several kinds of such vehicles are currently under development. The study will examine the feasibility of hosting spaceport operations, as well as the infrastructure needs and potential economic benefits of such operations.

“Determining the feasibility to launch spacecraft from Stennis International Airport represents a significant growth opportunity to expand Hancock County’s role in the space industry. Space is not new to Hancock County, home of NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, the nation’s largest rocket engine testing facility. The industry is poised for dynamic growth, and Hancock County is uniquely positioned to benefit from this growth,” said HCPHC’s CEO Bill Cork.

“Developing airports to be able to host operations of launch vehicles promises to bring down the cost of launching payloads into space tremendously,” said Ken Ibold, Senior Aviation Consultant for RS&H and the firm’s Project Manager for spaceport development at airports. “Stennis is a great candidate for a Launch Site Operator License because it is surrounded by compatible land and the community is so rooted in the space age.”

The study will help the HCPHC to identify potential users for the Airport in addition to traditional aircraft. Other activities may include unmanned aerial systems and other aerospace development.

Situated near the Gulf of Mexico, and with more than 1,500 acres of land readily available for development, Stennis International Airport features many of the attributes associated with a licensed spaceport. The Stennis area is considered to be a viable location due to the presence of a strong technology-savvy workforce associated with the NASA Stennis facility.

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One thought on “Stennis Airport a spaceport?

  1. Even before Jules Vern & H.G. Wells write their science fiction novels on space flight in the 1800s, others wrote about this concept. It would not be until the 1920s when Robert Godard demonstrated the technology of liquid fueled rocket engines would eventually make this a reality. After Godard published his designs of a rocket that could reach the moon, the Russians believed that routine access to space was right around the corner.

    In the early 1960s, NASA constucted the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, to test rocket engines for rockets that would send men to the moon. The odd thing about the choice for this location was that NASA first choice was the Louisiana marsh with zero population, cheaper land and would have been feasible for an additional launch site if a rocket configuration consisted of a glide back booster which would glide into Florida. The Mississippi site did not offer an additional launch site, the land cost more and the area was populated.
    By the 1970s, NASA would launch a rocket that carried a vehicle into space that would glide back to earth.

    On October 4, 2004, the privately built SpaceShipOne flew into suborbital space for the second time in five days, securing the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE. SpaceShipOne was designed for sub-orbital flights. The White Knight a manned, twin-turbojet aircraft provided a high-altitude airborne launch of SpaceShipOne. The configuration allows aircraft-like qualities for boost, glide, and landing. When SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE in 2004, Virgin Galactic said it would be flying vehicles based on its technology as soon as late 2007 or 2008. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are making progress on their vehicles, there’s optimism that the days of commercial human suborbital spaceflight may be soon at hand.
    It has been estimated now that we’re about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how testing goes. Human test flights will have to be conducted before any paying people are to will ride the rocket.
    The commercial clientele will consist of tourists who are wealthy individuals who have the means to take an expensive joy ride. The second group will consists of researchers.
    Markets do not exist for products produced from space resources. The high cost of acquisition and transport to Earth and the time required for transportation would make sale of valuable materials to Earth markets unviable.
    But there’s no technical reason why reusable launch vehicles couldn’t come to be operated routinely, just like aircraft. The only reason why this hasn’t been done yet is that launch vehicle development has been left to government space agencies. And they have had neither the priority nor the will to achieve it – they don’t use even 2% of their budgets to study the design of launch vehicles suitable for passenger service!

    The 15,000-foot-long (4,600 meters) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) has been unused for spaceflights since the 30-year space shuttle program retired in 2011. But now NASA is handing over operation of the facility to Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency for the state of Florida, to put the runway to new uses.
    Space Florida hopes to recruit commercial space companies to perform launches and landings from the Shuttle Landing Facilities. The organization has reached out to suborbital launch company XCOR Aerospace, as well as orbital spaceship builders Sierra Nevada Space Systems, Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), and has high hopes many of these companies will establish operations at Kennedy Space Center.
    XCOR said it was attracted to the idea of launching flights out of Kennedy Space Center in part because the Space Coast lures so many tourists — it’s about an hour’s drive from the tourist Mecca of Orlando. There are 30 million tourist visitors a year here,” Nelson told SPACE.com. “A few are going to want to fly to space.”

    There are a number of questions that would have to be answered. How long would it take for this venture to be economically feasible? Would the Stennis Airport be competitive? Would there have to be an additional acoustical buffer zone. Would the fuel be environmentally friendly? Would an Environmental Impact process be required?, etc.
    Never-the-less, it sure is an interesting idea.

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