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Out of this world


Augusto Bernal tells us more about how the Houston Airport System (HAS) is driving the development of Houston Spaceport at the city’s Ellington Airport.

While much of the aerospace news coming out of Texas recently focused on Elon Musk’s expansion of SpaceX at the southern tip of the state, more than 350 miles to the north east, there’s a vibrant aerospace hub that’s quickly making gains. Houston Spaceport is becoming a serious player in the evolution of space flight.

Today, Houston is home to over 500 space, aviation and aerospace related firms and institutions. It also boasts of having the first urban commercial spaceport in the world – the Houston Spaceport.

Not only will it serve as a future launch site for suborbital hypersonic point-to-point operations, but it seeks to develop a hub of aerospace innovation that will lead the nation in the transition from a government-driven space programme to one driven by commercial interests.

That vision is slowly coming to fruition, notably with the recent announcement by Axiom Space to build its headquarter campus at Houston Spaceport. It will use it to train private astronauts and begin production of its Axiom Station, the commercial space station that will replace the International Space Station in low Earth orbit.

There are other exciting projects happening at the spaceport, such as the work performed by Intuitive Machines, the first tenant at Houston Spaceport. The company is building the NOVA-C Spacecraft, a nearly 13-foot lunar lander, which in 2019, NASA selected to deliver cargo to the moon as soon as the fall of 2021.

“We have a unique aerospace centre for collaboration and innovation,” said Arturo Machuca, director of Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport. “We have several projects in the pipeline that we believe will be making announcements soon.”

Horizontal launches and landings will one day happen at Houston Spaceport. It is already equipped with a state-of-the-art Air Traffic Control Tower that has dedicated mission-control facilities for commercial spaceflight operations.

Additionally, its tenants have access to Ellington’s two world-class runways. The planning of the new Taxiway Lima is underway, which will increase access and operational space for tenants and partners.

In late 2020, the nation’s 10th licensed commercial spaceport completed Phase 1 of its development at Ellington Airport, located just 15 minutes away from downtown Houston.

The 150-acre, $21 million build-out included streets, water, wastewater, electricity, fibre optics and communications.

The Houston Spaceport’s Houston Aerospace Support Center already offers more than 53,000 square feet of manufacturing, laboratory and office space, including cleanrooms and large-scale hardware production facilities.

With the infrastructure in place, a significant number of aerospace companies already in the area, and one of the world’s largest international travel infrastructures, Machuca and his team at Houston Airport System (HAS) – which operates Houston Spaceport – envisage a cluster of spaceflight innovation that will grow and diversify Houston’s aerospace ecosystem.

The long-term vision of commercial aerospace leadership and the significant breakthroughs at Houston Spaceport would have been impossible, says Machuca, without the close relationship they have built with the higher education institutions around Houston.

Most notably he mentioned the opening of San Jacinto College’s EDGE Training Center at Houston Spaceport. The centre will train and develop aerospace workers, and share best practices with the spaceport’s tenants.

With the support of other Tier 1 universities such as Rice University and the talent pool of the most diverse city in the US, Houston Spaceport will continue on its journey of innovation and advancement in the unique urban environment of Southeast Texas.

As the future becomes clear for the Houston Spaceport and its pioneering role in commercial space flight, the nation is reminded that, from the beginning of manned spaceflight to sustaining an Earth-orbiting human presence and exploring the Moon and Mars, Houston remains Space City.

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