Airport could begin space operations by late 2013

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The Front Range Airport could be one step closer to achieving national recognition and one giant leap away from becoming a leader in the budding spaceflight industry.

During its June 13 meeting, the Front Range Airport Authority approved a broad set of resolutions that may set the stage for future development on the 3,900-acre site in Watkins, which has been marketed as Spaceport Colorado.

“From what I see going forward, I think it’s going to positively in a direct or indirect way affect every family in Colorado,” Dennis Heap, executive director of Front Range Airport, said. “If we really do a good job of standing up the aerospace economy and creating those jobs ... everybody is going to be touched by it.”

Since April 19, when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that limited a spaceflight entity’s liability for spaceflight participants and paved the way for Spaceport Colorado’s development, the Front Range Airport Authority has been working to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spaceport license authorizing horizontal takeoffs.

The airport has allocated $850,000 for a spaceport license, which includes the completion of an environmental assessment, and feasibility and marketing study. Heap said these two requirements, which should take about six months to complete, are one of the last steps the airport must take to begin any spaceflight operations.

One of the Airport Authority’s resolutions will allow it to submit a $200,000 FAA grant request to fund the environmental assessment. Front Range Airport agreed to pay $80,000 of the assessment’s estimated $400,000 price tag, according to approved grant documents.

Once the spaceport application is complete, Heap said, the airport may be able to obtain its license by late 2013, allowing prospective companies to begin pilot training, conduct tests on unmanned aerial vehicles and develop research on suborbital travel.

To begin this development, the Front Range Airport Authority also approved a resolution allowing the airport to apply for a $793,000 loan through the Colorado Department of Transportation-backed State Infrastructure Bank Program, which provides loans to Colorado communities to help fund transportation projects.

This loan would fund construction of a building to house a full-motion simulator that will be used to “retrain and recertify airline pilots,” he said.

“Once we get closer and closer to that license, I think we’re going to start seeing more companies coming to Front Range Airport, so we’re going to see little improvements in the economy,” Heap said. “As we get the spaceport license and start getting the training and all of those vehicles, it’s just going to continue to build.”

Heap said it may be at least a decade before point-to-point commercial travel takes place at Front Range Airport, but he said many companies nationwide are beginning to take notice of the airport’s benefits. He said benefits include the airport’s remote location, vast infrastructure and convenient location to downtown Denver and Denver International Airport.

“When a lot of people think about spaceports, they think about space planes and the launch of space tourism. But before that happens, we’re going to see a lot of companies that are looking for spaceport locations to do research development, testing and pilot training,” said Barry Gore, Adams County Economic Development president and chief executive officer. “There’s going to be a lot of industries that can come to a spaceport long before we see that first plane take off.”

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