Image:Proposed Spaceport Colorado would build upon the state’s aerospace prowess, home to the nation’s second?largest aerospace industry
Front Range Airport
Proposed Spaceport Colorado would build upon the state’s aerospace prowess, home to the nation’s second?largest aerospace industry.
updated 10/22/2012 3:47:12 PM ET 2012-10-22T19:47:12

The proposed Spaceport Colorado is moving closer to reality, with its supporters seeing it as an ideal hub to support high-speed suborbital flights with intercontinental range.

Front Range Airport, striving to be the home of Spaceport Colorado, signed a letter of intent last month with Rocket Crafters Inc. for horizontal launch, dual-propulsion, suborbital flight operations at the general aviation airport.

Founded in late 2010, Rocket Crafters Inc. of Titusville, Fla., is focused on development, manufacturing and distribution of rocket propulsion and dual-propulsion (jet/rocket) suborbital flight vehicle products to the commercial markets in the space, space exploration and defense industries.

In a statement from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (Metro Denver EDC), the letter of intent outlines a mutual plan to promote and develop Spaceport Colorado at Front Range Airport as the preferred commercial spaceport in America’s heartland. [Now Boarding: Top10 Private Spaceships]

Front Range Airport has 996 acres of developable land adjacent to existing ramps or is master planned to be accessible to ramps and taxiways. A 6,300-acre business park is also planned for development to support airport-related commercial activities and businesses with direct access to highway, rail, and airport services.

Front Range Airport is 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) from Denver International Airport, in Watkins, Colo.

Upon receipt of a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration, Rocket Crafters intends to locate certain pilot astronaut and mission specialist training activities at the spaceport.

Suborbital spaceships
Rocket Crafters further plans to conduct test flights of its planned Sidereus and Cosmos Mariner suborbital flight vehicles between Spaceport Colorado and the proposed Neil Armstrong International Air & Space Center, in Titusville.

Rocket Crafters plans to establish offices and specialized facilities at Spaceport Colorado to support up to 80 full-time jobs.

According to its website, Rocket Crafters’ vision is to link the world’s major commerce centers into a global network of commercial spaceport facilities from which air-space carriers operate high-speed suborbital flights with intercontinental range. [Photos: Take a Tour of Spaceport America]

“We are establishing the first commercial spaceflight academy using rocket- powered and suborbital-capable flight training vehicles. We anticipate our 1st class for FAA approved commercial astronaut wings for Pilot and Mission Specialist will begin in 2014", the website reads.

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Privately funded, the group’s planned dual propulsion — jet- and hybrid rocket-powered trainers — will give civilian pilots stick-n-rudder training in high-performance aircraft and suborbital space planes.

Rocket Crafters plans to introduce a primary-level trainer capable of teaching conventional-to-rocket-powered flight transition before the end of this year and begin delivery of new jet/rocket powered aircraft to flight schools and aviation colleges beginning in 2013.

“Much of the design/engineering for our advanced sub-orbit capable space plane has been completed,” the group’s website explains. “We anticipate first flight sometime before the end of 2014."

Ideal location
In the Metro Denver EDC statement, Ron Jones, Rocket Crafters’ president and chief technology officer, said: “It’s an ideal location to conduct runway-launched, dual-propulsion (jet-rocket) flight training, suborbital test flights, and scheduled commercial suborbital flights — linking Denver with other major commerce centers in the U.S. and around the world.”

Jones said that commercial spaceports will support suborbital flights transporting passengers and high-priority cargo over long distances at six times the speed of current commercial airliners.

“They will complement America's highly developed air transportation system by being located on or near major commerce and transportation hubs like Denver,” Jones said.

“We applaud the leaders from Front Range Airport, Adams County, and the State of Colorado in taking this bold step and leading the nation in what some call 'the second Golden Age of Flight,'" Jones said.

Feasibility study money
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced nearly $500,000 in matching grants to three projects in California, Colorado and Hawaii that will help develop and expand commercial space transportation infrastructure.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is responsible for licensing, regulating and promoting the commercial space transportation industry.

Within those three matching grants, $200,000 was awarded to Colorado’s Front Range Airport Authority. That grant will be used to conduct environmental and other feasibility analyses for a potential FAA Commercial Launch Site Operator’s License.

The federal matching grants fund up to 50 percent of the total project cost in conjunction with state and local government funding. In addition, the grants require that a minimum of 10 percent of the total project cost come from private funding, the FAA announcement said.

Public-private push
The feasibility study is a first step in a process to establish a spaceport in Colorado.

In a joint statement issued Sept. 25, U.S. senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado applauded the FAA grant.

“Having a spaceport in Denver will make Colorado a leader in space travel and solidify our reputation as a pioneer in the 21st century innovation economy,” Bennet said. “It will bring jobs to our state and fuel economic development and scientific research. This effort has been an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach and I’m proud to partner with leaders throughout the state to work on making this dream a reality.”

Udall said that Colorado “is an ideal hub for a spaceport” as the state is home to the nation’s second?largest aerospace industry, a well?educated work force, and a large technology business sector.

“This competitive grant will support Colorado’s advances in the way we travel in space, and will help grow economic opportunities and well?paying jobs for Coloradans,” he said.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is a winner of last year's National Space Club Press Award and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for since 1999.


Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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