Countdown to Spaceport Colorado launch inches closer, still miles away

Director of the Colorado Air and Space Port, Dave Ruppel, shows slides of the future site of the Air and Space Port, July 30 at Wings Over The Rockies Museum.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Colorado’s aerospace industry is like an engine, and it’s hot.

That’s how Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio likens the momentum of interest in the state a year after the designation of SpacePort Colorado at the Front Range Airport in Watkins, just outside of Aurora.

O’Dorisio, like many other state and local government officials, say Colorado’s Front Range is now uniquely positioned to attract international business to the state because of the facility, which boasts that “the first mile is free.” Mile high area. Get it?

That’s one reason why Shuji Ogawa, founder of Japanese-based PD Aerospace, is excited to work with SpacePort Colorado. 

PD Aerospace signed a letter of intent in April saying that it would “explore future usage of Colorado Air and Space Port, with both parties expressing willingness to cooperate, and shall become (the) basis for a deeper relation in the future.” The company is looking to develop a fully reusable ballistic spaceplane.

Dave Ruppel, director of SpacePort Colorado, said the partnership speaks to the vision he and many have had for the horizontal launch spaceport, which is already a test facility for English-based Reaction Engines.

“This letter of intent is a key component in building relationships with aerospace companies across the globe and for Adams County to provide a launch site,” he said after the agreement was signed. “Colorado has been coined ‘Aerospace Alley,’ and partnerships like this ensure it will remain a major destination for this industry.”

Ogawa and other PD Aerospace company leaders were present for a panel about the burgeoning aerospace industry in Colorado. Jay Lindell, who works specifically with aerospace for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said about 29,000 Coloradans are employed directly through the aerospace and more than 150,000 who are indirectly employed by the industry. 

Aerospace is responsible for a $3.2 billion payroll, making Colorado the largest space economy in the U.S. in 2013, according to the most recent statistics available.

He’s hoping that number will increase with the development of the spaceport.

Ogawa said Tuesday that Colorado’s interest in investing and growing into the aerospace industry was a really attractive trait when he was looking at the other 12 spaceports across the U.S. 

It also doesn’t hurt that SpacePort Colorado is located close to Denver International Airport, where there’s a direct flight to Tokyo, and major transportation infrastructure like rail and highways.

Other spaceports are in more remote areas, making growth and development more challenging. Lindell, who helps market Colorado to companies like PD aerospace, said that while the spaceport designation had been in the works for seven years, it wasn’t until now Colorado joined the same playing field as states like Florida, which has three spaceports, and Texas and California, which each have two.

Additionally, the majority of Colorado’s aerospace industry has been devoted to defense, but this new direction, with the help of SpacePort Colorado, helps grow the private sector. 

Frank Trevino, chief marketing officer for Exodus Space Corporation, said that growth only helps improve innovation and cost. Exodus is developing the Astroclipper, a multipurpose spaceliner.

The more access companies like Exodus have to Earth’s outer-atmosphere, the cheaper it becomes, Trevino said.