began to build airports so these airplanes could operate. I think states are looking at space travel as an extension of aviation travel, and are taking an interest in spaceports so that when these vehicles are proven to be safe as transport vehicles from one country to another, they will be at the front of the development."

Indeed, the widely circulated and comprehensive study by Bethesda, Md.-based Futron Corp., found the market outlook for space tourism to be surprisingly bright. The consulting firm, whose clients include NASA, the Department of Defense and the FAA, forecasts that by 2021, demand from more than 25,000 American passengers will generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Futron Corp. also predicts suborbital ticket prices will drop from the current $200,000 to around $50,000.

"That report gives a very strong indication that there are numerous people in this country alone who cannot only afford to do it, but want to do it," Khourie said. "That doesn't include other parts of the globe. Just from the space tourism side, it's a very strong market. Think of how many industrial applications, even from universities and other private-sector companies that might need to do something that requires zero gravity -- doing experiments, launching a payload, telecommunications -- there are so many applications out there that I think will get involved because the access to space will be so much cheaper, it will allow them to accomplish their missions and fulfill the type of goals they want to achieve as far as utilizing space vehicles."

Other states -- Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and Alaska -- have plans for their own private spaceports. In fact, Alaska's Kodiak Launch Facility has sent commercial satellites to space for nearly a decade, though it has no immediate plans for space tourism.

Ironically the one FAA-licensed spaceport that has produced successful commercial space launches has had virtually no government assistance. California's Mojave Spaceport, northeast of Los Angeles, was the site of SpaceShipOne's famed 2004 launch into history. Numerous major milestones in aviation, such as Chuck Yeager's first supersonic flight, have taken place in the Mojave Desert. But according to Stu Witt, general manager of the Mojave Airport and Spaceport, California seems content to let this industry leave the state just as it let major aerospace leave.

"[California] has given us nothing that they wouldn't give to a normal ... airport," Witt said. "The governor's representative told us directly that incentives are a race to the bottom. That was the attitude in the state of California. Everything we've had to do, we've had to do on our own."

According to Darrel Ng, chief deputy press secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state must work itself out of a budget crisis before it can fund spaceports.

"California still has a multibillion dollar structural budget deficit," he said. "Given those budget constraints, the best way the governor can support a project like this is to keep California's business climate strong and highlight many of California's natural advantages, such as having the best public university system in the world, and providing the infrastructure necessary to support such a project."

There are a few supporters in the California state Legislature, most notably Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield. Witt said the state's transportation department also pledged its support, with CalTrans Director Will Kempton advocating for state investment in the Mojave Spaceport. And the state created the California Space Authority (CSA), though the funding of the CSA is said to be marginal at best.

But it appears the state is largely indifferent to the idea of a spaceport. SB 1671, sponsored by Ashburn, was killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee, ending the only serious attempt to involve the state in the industry. The bill called for an $11 million grant, to be repaid immediately once a permanent

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.