Dear GSA Members,
This month I would like to share some of my thoughts about the role that spaceports can play in creating a global space economy. Traditionally, spaceports have been known for being the place from which satellites are launched into orbit. That role will certainly continue. However, there are at least five other potential roles that we should expect spaceports to play going forward, including:
- Hosting suborbital space tourism flights;
- Conducting research and technology development activities;
- Operating vehicles that provide high-speed, long-distance, point-to-point transportation through space;
- Being a hub for aerospace manufacturing; and
- Serving as a community focal point for aerospace workforce development and training.
According to the Airports Council International, there are currently 17,678 commercial airports in the world. If we include all airports, aerodromes, and airfields, both civilian and military, the total is 41,788. Note that airports are not just locations at which airplanes takeoff and land; rather, they have a tremendous economic impact. When it comes to space, there are only a handful of operational launch sites today. However, a report by Goldman Sachs projected that the global space economy could total more than $1 trillion per year within 25 years. Much of that economic activity could take place at or near spaceports.
As just one example of the potential transformation that we could be seeing in the next few decades, think about point-to-point transportation through space. SpaceX is in the process of developing the Big Falcon Rocket, or Starship, for future deep space exploration missions. According to Elon Musk, that same system could be used to carry hundreds of people from one side of the Earth to the other in less than 90 minutes. Richard Branson has also articulated plans for Virgin Galactic to offer rocket-powered, long distance travel. Such systems could revolutionize global commerce and transportation. Although it will likely be a number of years before such systems are operational, i
t is not too early to begin thinking about the facilities, technologies, and policies that they will require. Governments, companies, and academic institutions that aspire to participate in those activities, once they are available, need to start now to incorporate them in their strategic planning, including the need for spaceport development and/or modification. It is my hope that by encouraging spaceports to work together on these issues, the GSA can facilitate the planning process.
Dr. George C. Nield