The Little Spaceport That Can’t

As “Spaceport America” continues it quixotic quest for relevancy, the NewSpace revolution chugs ahead without the “services” offered by New Mexico’s boondoggle-in-the-desert.

SpaceX is preparing the Falcon Heavy for its premiere. The company says its new booster “has more lift capacity than any U.S. launch since the last Saturn V in the 1970s.” It will launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, and it’s already drawn the interest of “[m]ultiple commercial satellite customers … and the U.S. Air Force.”

But a space project that’s enjoyed far less media coverage is worth attention as well. Earlier this month, Rocket Lab, a small startup based in the U.S. and New Zealand, “successfully reached orbit with the test flight of its second Electron orbital launch vehicle.” It delivered “customer payloads at 8 minutes and 31 seconds after lift-off,” and tagging along was the “Humanity Star,” a “geodesic sphere made from carbon-fiber with 65 reflective panels,” designed to “spin rapidly and reflect the sun’s light to Earth,” orbiting “the Earth every 90 minutes in an elliptical pattern, travelling at 27 times the speed of sound.”

More than anything else, Rocket Lab’s mission was notable because it originated at “the world’s first private launch complex for orbital space flights.” Yes, New Mexico claims to have “the first purpose-built spaceport,” but if you want to learn who paid for the facility’s construction, look in the mirror. Other sites, including the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4, were built mostly, or entirely, by governments.

In contrast, Rocket Lab, a young and gutsy firm which intends to “remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit,” built its infrastructure on the Mahia Peninsula using its own money.

On the Gulf Coast of Texas, Elon Musk is building a spaceport with mostly private funds. Maybe the hot new trend in the launch industry is not asking taxpayers to pony up big bucks for pols’ space dreams that will never come true.

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