Colorado Air and Spaceport begins launch countdown

FAA approval means Adams County could host space flights by 2026

Kevin M. Smith
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 8/20/18

Adams County is a go for launch to hold a site operator license for a spaceport.

That means the Front Range Airport, located in Watkins in Adams County, will be able to host horizontal takeoffs …

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Colorado Air and Spaceport begins launch countdown

FAA approval means Adams County could host space flights by 2026

Posted

Adams County is a go for launch to hold a site operator license for a spaceport.

That means the Front Range Airport, located in Watkins in Adams County, will be able to host horizontal takeoffs and landings for commercial space travel.

That announcement came Friday afternoon.

County officials unveiled a new name for Front Range Airport during an Aug. 20 press conference: Colorado Air and Spaceport.

“This new name is a tribute to the spirit of regionalism that led us to here today,” Mary Hodge, chair of the Adams County Board of Commissioners, said at the press conference.

The Federal Aviation Administration granted the site operator license to Adams County after a 180-day review period, a press release stated. This is the 11th license in the United States, according to the press release.

“The foresight in ensuring we have spaceport location brings a lot of pride not only to Adams County but to the entire state,” Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne said at the press conference. “And, as you know, we consider ourselves a leader — and the data is there — when it comes to aerospace in general. We are first in the nation in 2017 for private aerospace employment as a percentage of total employment and second in terms of total private employment.”

She said Colorado is home to more than 400 space-related companies.

A fact sheet provided by Adams County shows 55,430 aerospace employees and 135,450 workers supported from partnering industries in Colorado with $1.8 billion awarded to Colorado companies from NASA in 2016. The sheet states there eight “leading aerospace contractors in the nation based in Colorado.”

“This license supports the rapid pace of innovation of Colorado-based companies while inviting new investment to grow these 21st-century jobs throughout the state,” Gov. John Hickenlooper was quoted in a press release. “Colorado welcomes the chance to write the next chapter in our country’s space history.”

Eight years

Airport Director — and now spaceport director — Dave Ruppel said realistically it would be at least another eight years before Coloradans start seeing commercial space traffic in Adams County.

“If there was a company right now today that had an operating prototype that was ready to get it approved by the FAA, it’s going to take probably two to three years just to get that approval,” Ruppel said in an interview. “Then they have to get a commercial license here specifically for this spaceport and that’s probably two to three years.”

Ruppel said he is not aware of a company with a concept vehicle ready for that process just yet.

“The speed of development of this kind of technology is something that we could see some much quicker change than we’ve anticipated and we want to be ready for that,” Ruppel said in the interview.

The vehicles will take off like traditional airplanes using jet fuel and fly to a special-use airspace where rocket boosters launch the craft into suborbital flight. To land, the craft drops out of suborbital flight and lands like a traditional airplane, the press release stated.

Ruppel said the airport is mostly ready for that.

“The beauty of a dual-use type facility is we already have runways,” Ruppel said.

Once a spacecraft is ready to use the Colorado spaceport, some minor and specific modifications may need to be made to accommodate the vehicle.

“Maybe they need a particular kind of hanger or kind of ramp area,” Ruppel said.

Ruppel has been in the airport business for about 15 years and had a military career before that and said this seems like a natural progression.

“When you’re actually involved in this process, you realize there’s a lot going on in that industry,” Ruppel said in an interview. “A lot of the things we used to think of as science fiction are science fact. This ability to go to space — to fly space planes to space — is something we will see happening in our lifetime, and that’s pretty exciting.”

Awe and Wonder

Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen recalled watching “in awe and wonder” reruns of Star Trek.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that seems like that should be our destiny,” Hansen said, “and I believe that it is.”

Exploration of space and colonization of other planets is inevitable.

“I’m very proud that Adams County has had a very small part in this incredible journey we have embarked upon today,” Hansen said.

Colorado Air and Spaceport is six miles from Denver International Airport and contains 3,200 acres and is surrounded by 7,000 more acres of privately owned industrial property, according to the press release.

“There are huge commercial development opportunities both on-site and in the surrounding area,” Adams County Manager Raymond Gonzales stated in the press release. “When combined with other developments planned for the area, this part of Adams County is poised to become a major international commercial hub.”

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