January 12, 2010

Florida Airports Granted Spaceport Status

Cecil Field airport in Jacksonville, Florida was awarded a federal license on Monday to fly commercial space vehicles being designed to ferry tourists and researchers beyond Earth's atmosphere, Reuters reported.

Cecil Field has one of the biggest runways in Florida at 12,500-feet long and 200-feet wide.

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority, which worked to get its commercial spaceport licensing for four years, plans to offer the runway to a range of commercial space operators including Virgin Galactic.

Last month, Richard Branson's Virgin Group unveiled the first of six planned suborbital spaceships that will initially fly out of a commercial spaceport in California. Virgin Galactic, which is selling tickets for $200,000 per seat, is building a base in New Mexico.

Todd Lindner, who has been overseeing development of the Jacksonville spaceport, said the big difference between Cecil Field and the New Mexico spaceport is that we have facilities already in place.

Cecil Field will soon be the U.S.'s eighth licensed commercial spaceport and the first in Florida cleared to fly space vehicles that take off and land horizontally, like airplanes.

Lindner told Reuters it is a relatively new component to the space industry.

"Up until this point, people are automatically assuming space launches are vertical because we all grew up watching the rockets go up from the Cape," he noted.

Cecil Field also hopes to offer commercial orbital launch services staged from the suborbital craft, in addition to suborbital passenger flights like those Virgin is offering.

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is working with several potential customers, but declined to identify them, according to Lindner.

He said a study to estimate the potential economic benefit of the spaceport is still pending.


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