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My Spaceport is Bigger and More Legally Authorized Than Yours (Part 1 of 2)

May 23, 2012, 12:18 PM

With state and local governments still suffering from a persistent deficit of tax revenues due to the moribund economic recovery, smart politicians are looking ahead and lobbying for spaceport development in their constituencies.

Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico has been the most prominently profiled new spaceport developed to date, thanks in large part to its anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. NewSpace Global (NSG; www.newspaceglobal.com) analysts believe that in the coming decades, Spaceports will dot the international landscape and become as common as Jersey Shore spinoffs. Why? Because the economic impact of Spaceport development and the related infrastructure, amenity base, and job growth impact is very, very real.

In 2010, the El Paso Times reported that the budget for Spaceport America would be more than $200M for just the construction of the Spaceport building and runways, and a Futron Corporation consulting report estimated the project would generate up to 2,300 jobs. (We at NSG take such projections with several grains of asteroid-sized salt.)

Given the different stages of planning for international spaceports, our analysts routinely track the progress and announcement of proposed sites. This is the first of a two-part series that provides a survey of future spaceport locations—places where you might one day find yourself futzing around on your iPad 20 because your flight to the Bigelow space hotel was under weather delay.

Spaceport America

Image courtesy of Arcspace.com

This flagship international spaceport is located west of the White Sands Missile Range, 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Former Governor Bill Richardson was a key proponent of the spaceport. After signing Virgin Galactic (which is currently the #4 ranked company on the NSG 100 index, recently featured on CNBC and in Space News) as its anchor tenant under a 20-year lease, the spaceport began construction financed through a combination of existing state funds and a new public bond issuance. Substantial completion of Phase I was officially dedicated by Sir Richard Branson in October 2011. But perhaps more interesting is new Governor Susana Martinez’s push to bring more private funding to the project.

Referring to the Phase II ancillary infrastructure needs and the completion of the tourist and entertainment center, Martinez stated in a 2011 press release issued by her office that “New Mexico's taxpayers have made a significant investment in the spaceport project. It's time to see the project through to completion by bringing in private funding.” Public-private partnerships have long been used by local governments to spur new real estate development in blighted urban communities, and NSG analysts hope that such partnerships can produce similar results for NewSpace in the near term, while leading towards purely private investment in the long term. Virgin Galactic estimates commercial suborbital passenger service to begin in 2013 or 2014.

Spaceport Abu Dhabi

In 2009, the Abu Dhabi state-backed investment firm Aabar Investments acquired a 32 percent stake in Spaceport America. A random investment abroad? Certainly not. According to an Arabian Business report in April 2012, Virgin Galactic will build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi as part of their desire to diversify away from oil and into alternative investments.

“Under the 2009 deal the two companies agreed that Abu Dhabi would gain exclusive regional rights, subject to receipt of regulatory clearances, to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific research space flights,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi, according to Arabian Business. Take that Emirates Airlines, with your fancy flight attendants, and your super comfy seats.

Spaceport Gagarin

At a meeting of the space industry in April 2012, then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed the preparation of a long-term national strategy to develop spaceports. He also called on the space industry to step up cooperation with the European Space Agency and other countries. If one thing is clear in Russia’s “democracy,” it’s that what Vlad wants, Vlad gets.

In April 2012 Ria Novosti reported that Uniparx Development is preparing to build a spaceport in central Russia that would be part of the Vazuza and Yauza Park entertainment resort in the Smolensk region 200 kilometers from Moscow. U.S.-based Space Adventures, which has an office in Moscow, has expressed its willingness to become a partner in the project. The announcement came soon after Sergei Kostenko, CEO of Orbital Technologies, one of several international-based NewSpace companies tracked by NSG analysts in the NSG 100, declared his goal to launch and operate the first space hotel by 2016. With initial estimates of a five-day stay at roughly $165,000, not including transportation, Hotels.com better except the AmEx Black Card.

The Spaceport Gagarin would also benefit Excalibur Almaz, another private spaceflight company currently tracked by NSG in the NSG 100, that plans to provide orbital space tourism and provide test beds for experiments in a microgravity environment. Excalibur Almaz has offices in Houston and Moscow and is designing its spacecraft based on Soviet capsules.

Mojave Spaceport

Image courtesy of Parabolic Arc 

NSG analysts  have frequently mentioned Mojave (see NSG’s March 2012 Thruster: (Spaceland Section) Stratospherically Launching the Kern County Real Estate Market and Premiere Thruster: (Spaceland Section) The Road to Newspace is Paved with...Sand?), but compared to the funding support given to other spaceports, Mojave is like the tech startup two kids are running out of their garage. Located two hours north of Los Angeles County, Mojave is already home to several NSG 100 companies, including Masten Space Systems, Firestar, The Spaceship Company, and XCOR. Although we might not see commercial launches out of Mojave, it has established itself as one of the key places for R&D for NewSpace entrepreneurs.

Spaceport Texas: Brownsville and/or Houston

Dear Mr. Musk, NSG likes you a lot. Obviously. You and your team at SpaceX have advanced NewSpace further than most. But we really think these spaceports can be built with private funding alone, you just need to find the right spot.

In November 2011, Musk said SpaceX wanted to build a launch site that functions "like a commercial Cape Canaveral” and was considering a location in Brownsville in southern Texas. "There's been a lot of good action by the authorities in the Brownsville area; there's not been that much at the state level, and we'd certainly appreciate more from the state level," Musk said. Look, if SpaceX is focused on Brownsville, chances are pretty good that a commercial spaceport will be built. But not without competition from other Texas locations.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston’s Airport System Director Mario Diaz indicated that local aviation officials are studying the viability of Houston’s third airport to serve space flights. The estimated cost of converting the currently non-commercial Ellington Airport has initially been estimated at $48M to $122M. Diaz said the following:

It won't just be about space tourism, which is what Virgin Galactic's about. We would welcome Virgin Galactic, but we think that the real heavy lift will be the support of spaceships or spacecraft, space stations in orbit. We have the International Space Station. We know China is going to build another space station. The Obama administration is talking about a refueling station. It'll just be a matter of time before we have multiple orbiting space stations and Houston will be in place to support that.

NSG real estate analysts are following this development closely. While many proposed spaceports are in more remote locations, any new developments at Ellington will immediately support real estate investment in its already developed surroundings.

Stay tuned next time for Part 2 of NSG’s spaceport survey.

About NewSpace Global, LLC

NSG was founded in 2010, and is based in New York City. It is the leading information service provider on NewSpace, and has representatives in 12 cities around the world. NSG leverages its vast network (which includes investment banks, private equity/hedge funds, venture capitalists, angel investors, sovereign wealth funds, media, academia, government agencies, Fortune 500 companies and NewSpace entrepreneurs) to provide critical, timely, and accurate information for its subscribers. NSG has been featured on Fox News and CNBC, and was recently profiled by Space News. For more information, please visit http://www.NewSpaceGlobal.com.


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