City Council takes next step toward Ellington ‘Spaceport’

Jul. 17, 2013The Houston Chronicle

Houston City Council on Wednesday approved $718,900 for consultants to help obtain a spaceport license for city-run Ellington Airport.

Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc. will help the city submit an application to the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial space division to obtain a Spaceport Launch Site Operator’s License for Ellington. Houston Airport System director Mario Diaz has said the license could be obtained sometime next year.

The preparation work, most of which will be done in the first year of the three-year contract, will includes an environmental assessment and plans for where to put launch sites and how to operate them, according to an explanatory document attached to the council agenda.

According to an airport system press release, FAA has thusfar licensed eight commercial spaceports.

“Houston is in a perfect position to establish itself as a focal point city within the commercial aerospace industry,” Diaz said in the release. “The infrastructure at Ellington Airport is ideal for this type of activity. The surrounding area is already populated with highly-educated, trained professionals and (Ellington) is well-positioned geographically to accommodate the types of launches under consideration.”

The activities hosted at Ellington, Diaz has said, could range from space tourism to the engineering and assembly of space-bound vehicles.

As Houston is the only large metropolitan region with an aerospace presence, Diaz and others have said, they envision Ellington as a hub of commercial space activity, most notably for the horizontal launches of reusable vessels. Officials do not anticipate vertical launches being carried out at Ellington.

A 2012 study found it would cost the Houston Airport System about $48 million to $122 million to equip Ellington for launching small space vehicles.

“Houston was the first word ever spoken from the surface of the moon, so our city already enjoys a unique place in aerospace history,” Mayor Annise Parker said in the release. “But we need to take the steps necessary to ensure that Houston remains at the forefront of this exciting industry throughout the 21st Century and this initiative at Ellington Airport goes a long way in accomplishing that goal.”

Diaz presented an update on the progress toward a spaceport at a recent City Council committee hearing. Here is our coverage of the event and here is a link to the video of the presentation.