If the stars align properly, Texas will in the fullness of time be the location of not just one but three different space ports. Besides the launch facility that SpaceX is mulling near Brownsville, two space ports, one near Midland, the other at Ellington Airport are being developed. The two would service spacecraft that can land and, in the case of Midland, takeoff horizontally.
A Sunday story at the Midland CBS TV affiliate notes that XCOR, a space tourism company that is developing a horizontal takeoff and landing spacecraft called the Lynx, is on track to conducting test flights in 2015. XCOR recently moved its testing operation to Midland, taking advantage of Texas’ friendly business climate. The Lynx would take a pilot and one paying customer in suborbital jaunts, it is planned, twice a day by 2018.
The Spring Observer noted in a story on Saturday that Sierra Nevada has concluded an agreement with a group developing Ellington as a space port to explore mutual economic opportunities. Sierra Nevada’s spacecraft, the Dream Chaser, is being developed as an orbital spacecraft under NASA’s commercial crew program. Unlike the Lynx it is designed to launch vertically on a rocket and land horizontally, much like the space shuttle used to do.
The Dream Chaser is being contemplated as a vehicle to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This would mean that it would launch from the Kennedy Space Center and land at the old shuttle landing strip at the same facility. Ellington should serve as an alternate landing site, however. It could also serve as a primary landing site should Dream Chaser be used to service commercial customers.
A number of space ports designed to handle horizontal takeoff and landing spacecraft have been built around the country, including California and New Mexico. Thus far not a single spacecraft has soared from any of these facilities. Future potential customers, besides XCOR and Sierra Nevada, include Virgin Galactic and Stratolauncher, each of which are developing VTHL spacecraft.