Cornwall Expects Big — Maybe Too Big — Things From Newquay Spaceport

There’s some news from Cornwall on the spaceport front:

Cornwall Council has admitted that it is ‘anticipating a positive announcement’ on the bid to have the UK’s first spaceport in Newquay bringing thousands of new jobs and an £1bn a year into the local economy.

Newquay is among eight UK sites vying to become the first spaceport in Europe as the Government aims to meet the growing interest in space tourism.

The Government is expected to announce the location of the spaceport at the Farnborough Air Show which starts on July 16.

If successful, horizontal rocket launches could take place from Newquay , which has one of the longest runways in the country, to see small size satellites put into orbit. The space sector could be worth more than £1 billion by 2030, which is more than 10 per cent of the current economy.

Editor’s Note:  It looks like somebody’s got spaceport fever. Also known as Richardson Syndrome, it is a very serious condition that leads people to do and say all sorts of crazy (and often expensive) things. The only cure for that is reviewing the history of commercial spaceports. Preferable with a couple of pints on hand, which you’ll need once you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.

I’ve lived for six years near Mojave spaceport, which hasn’t seen a spaceflight in almost 14 years.  Small rocket launches aside, Spaceport America has stayed largely idle since they dedicated the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space way back in 2011. (You don’t need to spend $225 million to launch sounding rockets.) Midland’s spaceport dreams expired when XCOR and Orbital outfitters did. Burns Flat in Oklahoma never saw a launch. Florida’s Cecil Airport is still waiting for its first spaceflight.

Maybe things will be different in Cornwall. Maybe they’ll catch a wave. Maybe the timing is finally right. I don’t know. You never say never in this business.

It’s great that they’re willing to pursue this, but they need to manage expectations. And not go giving things away on sketchy promises. One thing that helps is Newquay won’t be dependent on its space business. It’s not like they’re building a spaceport in suburban nowhere and waiting on something that is always 12 to 18 months away.

Lynx Flights 6-9 Months Away as XCOR Moves Staff to Midland

Lynx Mark I with strakes bonded. (Credit: XCOR)
Lynx Mark I with strakes bonded. (Credit: XCOR)

The Midland Reporter-Telegraph has an update on XCOR’s progress on the Lynx and its move to Texas:

XCOR Aerospace has moved half of its staff to Midland as it attempts to juggle manufacturing demands back in Mojave, California with its shift to the Tall City.

The space company, which is developing the suborbital aircraft Lynx and orbital rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance project, has brought much of its ULA and administrative staffs to Midland while leaving many Lynx staff back in Mojave.

“There’s a lot going on in Mojave,” said XCOR mechanical engineer Mark Peck. “That’s one of the reasons for not moving everyone right now is because we just don’t want to take a month out of the build schedule.”

Peck estimated that XCOR is six to nine months away from the Lynx 1’s first flight. The main structure is complete and the wing mounts are being made. Once the craft is put together, the team in Mojave will do ground testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Peck cited the longer runway at Mojave and the ability to do extensive testing there without shutting down a commercial airport as reasons for doing the test back in California.

The Year in Commercial Space 2014 (Part II)

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)
Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

Second of 2 Stories

It was a busy year for a number of commercial space companies. While most of them made considerable progress, the news wasn’t all good.

A Dream Deferred

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) had a pretty rough year, losing out on two major contracts and laying off more than 100 employees.

On a Friday in May, just as everyone was preparing for the long Memorial Day weekend, Virgin Galactic announced it was dumping the hybrid rubber motor SNC developed for SpaceShipTwo in favor of a hybrid nylon one produced by Scaled Composites.


Midland, XCOR Celebrate Spaceport License

Officials from XCOR and Orbital Outfitters journeyed to Midland for a celebration of the FAA granting a spaceport license to Midland International Airport. This Tweet was the only official word out of XCOR about the celebration.

Statement on Midland Airport Spaceport License

Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)
Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)

MIDLAND, Texas (Press Release)—In a joint release today, the Midland International Airport, Midland Development Corporation, XCOR Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of a Commercial Space Launch Site License (Spaceport) for the Midland International Airport (MAF). Midland International Airport is the first primary commercial service airport to be certified by the FAA under the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 420 as a spaceport and will furthermore be referred to as the Midland International Air & Space Port.


Midland International Airport Gets Spaceport License

Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry's Office)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry’s Office)

FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation George Nield announced today the agency has awarded a spaceport license to Midland International Airport, paving the way for XCOR Aerospace to move its research and development operations there next year.

Nield made the announcement this morning at the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting in Washington, D.C. Midland Airport Director Marvin Esterly was present to receive the license.

XCOR signed an agreement to move to Midland from Mojave, Calif., in July 2012. That move was contingent upon the Midland airport receiving a spaceport license that will allow XCOR to fly its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

XCOR plans to move to Midland next year after conducting initial flight tests in Mojave.

XCOR Breaking Down Walls with Midland – One Step Closer to Space

Full-scale Lynx mockup (Credit: XCOR)
Full-scale Lynx mockup (Credit: XCOR)

Wall Breaking Ceremony Marks Start of Hangar Renovations

Midland, Texas, August 15, 2014 (XCOR PR) —At 10am this morning, just feet from the runway which will rocket XCOR® Lynx® customers to space and back, Midland Development Corporation and XCOR Aerospace® invited local officials, contractors, Midland residents and local press to attend the kickoff of new renovations on the XCOR hangar with a ceremonial wall breaking inside of XCOR’s Commercial Spaceflight Research and Development Center Headquarters at Midland International Airport (MAF).


XCOR Sets “Wall Breaking” Ceremony in Midland

XCOR and Midland Development Corporation have set a “wall breaking” ceremony for Friday morning that will mark the beginning of renovations at the company’s hangar at Midland International Airport.

The event will feature XCOR and MDC staff and special guests. Refreshments will be provided.

XCOR plans to move its research and development operations to Midland from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The company signed a deal two years ago under which Midland will provide a $10 million incentives package.

Officials are awaiting approval of a spaceport license for Midland from the Federal Aviation Administration. That approval is expected to come no later than Sept. 15.

Endangered Chicken Impacting Midland Spaceport License Application

Lesser prairie chicken
Lesser prairie chicken

An update on Midland International Airport’s application for a spaceport license, which is necessary for XCOR to move its R&D facility to the West Texas facility:

It appears the mating rituals of the lesser prairie chicken are imposing on Midland International Airport’s pursuit of a spaceport license.

After the chicken was federally listed in March, the airport submitted an addendum to its environmental assessment explaining why the spaceport wouldn’t be a threat to the now “threatened” species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worried about sonic booms negatively impacting the small chicken’s early-morning spring mating habits, has yet to approve the addendum.

But Midland Director of Airports Marv Esterly — who offered to send biologists to Andrews County to study how the first five launches would impact the chickens — fully expects the service to sign off and the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver a finding of “no significant impact.”

“They are really sensitive to what’s out there,” Esterly said during Tuesday’s Spaceport Development Corp. meeting. “We feel the sonic boom is so small — so much less than a thunder clap — that it won’t have an effect.”

The FAA is set to make a decision by Sept. 15.

Read the full story.

Midland Advances Toward Spaceport License

It looks like Midland has clear sailing toward obtaining a spaceport license that would allow XCOR Aerospace to move to the west Texas city:

Midland International Airport continues on its mission to obtain a spaceport license by Sept. 15 by passing a 30-day public comment period with no objections and solving a minor hiccup caused by the lesser prairie chicken’s threatened status.

At Thursday’s Spaceport Development Corp. meeting, Director of Airports Marv Esterly said the next step in the spaceport license process is the Federal Aviation Administration’s “finding of no significant impact,” which is the final approval of the environmental assessment for the spaceport, expected to be passed in 30 days.

But one minor threat, what Esterly called a “small glitch,” was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing in March of the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened,” after the airport drafted its environmental assessment. Esterly said the airport contacted FWS and submitted information to the agency that explained the spaceport wouldn’t have any effect on the bird.

The airport will receive a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approving the information submitted and attach it to the environmental assessment, Esterly said.

The spaceport license is still slated for Sept. 15, but can be approved anytime after the environmental assessment’s final approval. Esterly said the airport has been coordinating with the FAA for the last 1 1/2 years and that there is nothing new in the spaceport application that the agency doesn’t already know.

Read the full story.

FAA Seeks Public Comment on Midland Spaceport Draft Environmental Assessment

faa_logoDraft Environmental Assessment – Public Review and Comment Period

The FAA has initiated a public review and comment period for the Draft EA. Interested parties are invited to submit comments on the Draft EA, preferably in writing, on or before April 21, 2014. An electronic version of the Draft EA is available by clicking the following link:

Midland International Air and Space Port: – Draft Environmental Assessment (PDF)

In addition, a printed copy of the Draft EA is available at the following locations:

  • Midland County Library – 301 West Missouri Avenue, Midland, Texas 79701
  • Ector County Library – 321 W. 5th Street, Odessa, Texas 79761
  • Reagan County Library – 300 Courthouse Square Big Lake, Texas 76932

The FAA will hold an open house public meeting on April 8, 2014, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Center for Energy and Economic Diversification (Foyer), located at 1400 North FM 1788, Midland, Texas 79701 (southeast corner of SH 191 and FM 1788). The public will be able to speak to project representatives one-on-one and submit written comments or provide oral comments to a stenographer. Comments or questions on the Draft EA should be sent on or before April 21, 2014 and may be addressed to Mr. Daniel Czelusniak, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW, Suite 325, Washington, DC 20591 or submitted by email to

Orbital Outfitters Moving to Midland

spacesuit_orbital_outfittersMIDLAND, Texas (MDC PR) – The Midland Development Corporation approved an agreement with Orbital Outfitters for the location of their Space Pressure Suit Manufacturing and Development business at the Midland International Airport (MAF).

The construction of the new building, on approx. 2 acres of land at MAF, will completed by December 2015. The building will include an altitude chamber complex to support the testing and qualification of space and pressure suits, small space systems and components testing and flight crew training operations and will be made available for use by UTPB.

Orbital Outfitters specializes in the design, development, and manufacturing of space and pressure suits, with a secondary line of business focusing on the production of full-scale space vehicle mockups. The company works closely with XCOR Aerospace, whose new R&D Center will be located on the flight line at MAF in a soon-to-be renovated ~60,000 sq. ft. hangar testing and office facility.


Orbital Outfitters Moving to Midland

orbital_outfittersThere’s a report out of Midland, Texas about plans for Los Angeles-based spacesuit manufacturer Orbital Outfitters to move there:

This week Midland Development Corp. approved a nearly $7 million agreement which will permit Orbital Outfitters to manage and operate a $3.2 million altitude chamber facility, which MDC will own. According to news reports, the board will also provide the firm with an incentive of $2.2 million to construct its headquarters in the Lone Star State city, along with $1.5 million to assist in its relocation from California.

The agenda for MDC’s meeting on Jan. 24 lists three measures concerning Orbital Outfitters: an economic agreement, the lease of a two-acre tract at the Midland International Airport by the city of Midland, and a sublease of that tract to the company. No details are provided.

Orbital Outfitters will join XCOR Aerospace, which has an agreement with Midland to move its research and development facility to the West Texas city. Lee Valentine, who is one of XCOR’s lead investors, also is a co-founder of Orbital Outfitters.

Midland Closes In on Spaceport License

Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry's Office)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry’s Office)

A couple of brief updates on the XCOR move to Midland, Texas. It looks as though the FAA is about to complete its environmental assessment of Midland International Airport’s spaceport license application:

In the next two weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration General Council is expected to approve the airport’s environmental assessment portion of their application.

The application will then be published in the federal register.

CBS-7 News is also reporting that once the full application is approved, city officials “will hold a public meeting to take input on the project sometime in February.”

XCOR and the city of Midland announced a $10 million deal to move the company’s R&D facility to the West Texas airport in July 2012. The move is contingent on the airport receiving a spaceport license from the FAA.

Commercial Spaceflight Measures Advance in Texas Legislature

texas_flagThe Texas spaceflight informed consent law would be significantly expanded to provide significantly greater protections for spaceflight operators, manufacturers and component suppliers under legislation now making its way through the State Legislature.

The bill is one of three measures being considered by lawmakers during this session. The other two measures would clarify the liability of municipalities and add a commercial spaceflight representative to the state’s Aviation Advisory Committee.