Texas tourism may go suborbital
The last decade has seen the first leisure travelers go to space. Since 2001, seven individuals have purchased eight orbital flights — one passenger flew twice — for up to $35 million per flight.
Austin software and gaming mogul Richard Garriott was one of them.
The development of suborbital reusable vehicles — commercially developed reusable space vehicles that can carry humans or cargo — offer a slew of space experiences (weightlessness, view from space and of the curvature of the Earth) combined with the rare opportunity to cross the threshold of space at a price point significantly lower than commercially purchased orbital flights.
“It’s the same thing that happened to commercial aviation in the 1930s, which used to be ridiculously expensive,” saidMichael Lopez-Alegria, president of Washington-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which represents 40 companies nationwide related to space vehicle production, running space ports and providing engineering services for the aerospace industry.
XCOR Aerospace Inc. and Virgin Galactic plan to have commercial sub-orbital flights within a year. Seats will go for between $100,000 and $200,000. They will have to launch from other states because Texas doesn’t have its own spaceport — but that could change soon.
Entrepreneur and visionary Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is considering establishing the world’s first commercial orbital launch site in Texas. Other commercial spaceflight companies could follow, some of which already have a footprint in Texas.
This session lawmakers made a concerted effort to propose bills and request funds to establish the framework needed to encourage more of the private sector to start their sub-orbital and orbital space adventures in Texas.
State Rep. René Oliveira’s, D-Brownsville, House Bill 2623 “removed a major hurdle” for a proposed SpaceX site at Boca Chica Beach, according to Chief of Staff J.J. Garza. It will enable the closing of a beach or a beach access point for the launching of rockets from the site.
House Bill 1791, authored by State Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, provides noise ordinance and liability protection consistent with federal regulations to facilitate the operation of space flight activities in Texas.
In addition, the next biennium’s budget has a contingency rider for $10 million appropriated to the Spaceport Trust Fund if SpaceX or other eligible projects locate in Texas, with another $5 million potentially available from programs such as the Texas Enterprise Fund.
SpaceX remains tight lipped on where it will locate its proposed space port — Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico have made bids — though it plans to make a decision by the end of this year, said Christina Ra, SpaceX’s director of communications.
Although it’s not possible to comment on how the Boca Chica Beach site compares to others, Ra said, legislation that passed this session is critical to keeping Texas a front runner through SpaceX’s due diligence process. She said the failure of the so-called Tesla bill — legislation that would have allowed Musk’s other company, Tesla Motors Inc., to sell direct to customers rather than through dealerships — won’t pose a problem.
“SpaceX has had great experiences in Texas and we like doing business there,” Ra said.
And lawmakers are hoping other commercial spaceflight companies will come to hold the same opinion — as well as act on it.
“We’ve done everything to pave the way to make Texas a space state,” said State Rep.John Davis. “Now the ball is in Musk’s court.”
– Austin Business Journal