Nine circles of bureaucracy: how an airport in Denver is trying to get a spaceport license



Private space exploration is actively gaining momentum. Companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic appear on the market that launch their rockets, satellites into space and intend to provide transportation services.

The space business seems profitable and promising, so new players are trying to enter the market, but it can be very difficult to do this. In this regard, the story of the Denver airport Front Range, which since 2011 has been trying to obtain a license for the Spaceport Colorado spaceport, is indicative.

Long game




Spaceport Colorado Center plans to build one and a half kilometers from the current territory of the Front Range airport. The concept of the spaceport was first introduced seven years ago. In 2011, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper contacted the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with a request to secure the status of a spaceport at Front Range Airport.

Since then, the Spaceport Colorado team has begun an active dialogue with the FAA to obtain a spaceport license.

The first step in the licensing process was the feasibility study of the future spaceport. For its preparation in 2012, a Spaceport Colorado grant was allocated in the amount of 200 thousand dollars. The administration should have investigated the logistics of operating a commercial spaceport. In particular, the requirements for vehicles, the conditions for their launch and landing.

In 2013, organizations such as the Colorado Department of Aeronautics Transport, DIA, and Aurora invested in Spaceport Colorado .

In the same year, he signed a contract with the engineering company HDR, which was supposed to transform the airport into a spaceport. Create a business plan, conduct a technical analysis of the facility and assess the state of the environment - have become the main tasks for HDR.

However, until now there has not been a clear plan of action, there has been confusion in the organization of the work process and the formation of the concept. Therefore, the Front Range administration decided to terminate the contract with Dennis Hap, who for many years was the executive director of the airport. In early 2014, his place was taken by retired naval pilot Dave Ruppel.

Then for a while Spaceport Colorado disappeared from the news feeds. Only in the middle of autumn 2015, Dave Ruppel reported that the administration intends to apply for licensing the spaceport by the end of October in order to get approval in the second quarter of 2016.

One of the key issues that the potential spaceport has encountered is its proximity to Denver International Airport (DIA). Front Range is located just a few minutes away and right in the airspace class Bed and . Therefore, the integration of the cosmodrome and future spacecraft into the national airspace system creates a difficult situation.


And only at the beginning of March 2018, the FAA began to consider the application for a corresponding license. The FAA has six months to make a decision. If the answer is yes, then Front Range will receive permission to launch satellites into orbit and the development of space tourism.

Before issuing a license, the FAA must ensure the safety and reliability of airspace management between Front Range and DIA. In the past few months, the agency has already carried out an environmental assessment of how future spacecraft flights from Spaceport Colorado will affect noise levels, air quality, lighting, historical and archaeological resources.

To date, the FAA has licensed ten private spaceports. . The sites are located in Alaska, in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida. Recently received a license from Ellington Houston Airport. Pads are used only for suborbital launches.

“We expect to be number 11,” says Dave Ruppel, Front Range Airport Director.

Available Suborbital Flights


If Spaceport Colorado receives a license, then the spaceport will host ships that perform horizontal take-offs and landings using a reusable rocket propulsion system. In other words, airborne assets will take off and land, like ordinary airplanes.

Suborbital flight will take place along an elliptical trajectory. Flights will be operated anywhere in the world once a week. In this case, travel time will be significantly reduced. For example, a 13-hour trip from Denver to Tokyo will fit in a 90-minute flight.

To survive such flights will be able to anyone who quietly tolerates a roller coaster ride.

“We watched cosmodromes appear all over the country. Now it's time for Colorado. This is where the future of space travel can arise, ” said Jim Siedlcki, Adams County Director of Public Relations.

It is too early to say which spacecraft companies will be represented in Front Range. Since even if the license is granted in August 2018, this does not mean that the shuttles will start flying right there. It will take another five to eight years to find anchor tenants. The spaceport should be visited by companies that create private manned suborbital spacecraft - Virgin Galactic, Airbus and XCOR.

Spaceport Colorado executives report on all project news at official site .

Why put so much effort




In addition to transportation services, Spaceport Colorado will create opportunities for the development of the aerospace industry in the state. Colorado already boasts a strong research community and large aerospace companies.

The state has such aerial corporations as the military industrial enterprise Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of spacecraft Ball Aerospace, and the United Launch Alliance, which launches spacecraft commissioned by the US government. A number of companies are developing suborbital spacecraft, including the famous Dream Chaser .

In addition, Colorado ranks second in the United States in terms of the number of people involved in the aerospace industry (more than 25 thousand).

The construction of Spaceport Colorado will be the next logical step in developing the state’s space infrastructure. The spaceport will also bring tangible economic benefits: an increase in the number of jobs and an increase in tax revenues in the district.

“Our goal is to attract high-tech enterprises focused on the space industry. It is very important for us that large players producing small-sized satellites come to the spaceport, ” Ruppel emphasizes .

If in the twentieth century, states participated in the space race, now private companies have joined it. They invent new rockets and promise humanity an accessible space. In 2016, the space industry turnover was estimated at $ 329 billion, and three-quarters of this activity came from private companies, not from the state.

It will be possible to learn first hand how the private space infrastructure in Russia is being formed at the InSpace Forum on March 21.