Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA),who is leading the efforts to get a licence for the spaceport fromthe US Federal Aviation Association (FAA). “A lot of people approach spaceports with a philosophy of ‘we’re going to build it and they will come’.Wetake a differ- ent approach,which is to build it on a sustainabilitymodel of business demand for LEO.” Mr Brownbelieves that offering

genuine value for money in both launch and the surrounding ecosys- temof support services is essential to a commercially viable spaceport. But even if LEO satellites are suc-

cessful, they have a challenge to out- compete existing GEO satellites and ground-based telecommunications. McKinsey noted in a 2020 report that the manufacturing costs of LEO sat- ellites would have to come downby at least 75% to be financially viable. “Companies planning large LEO sat- ellite internet constellations still need to reduce a range of costs sig- nificantly to ensure long-termviabil- ity,” McKinsey said, noting that ground receivers needed for LEOcon- stellations to operate will also need to be improved.

Agglomeration effects But even with concerns over the via- bility of LEOsatellites, spaceports have huge potential to generate local economic development, albeit with some constraints. Mr Sabri at London Economics

says that building spaceports is an opportunity to “anchor space within local communities”, acts as a signal to investors that there is a coordi- nated approach across stakeholder groups, and canmake a location and space-faring nationmore attractive to investment. It also presents the potential for tourism activity from space enthusiasts wanting to experi- ence this newand exciting industry. Spaceport America in New

Mexico is hoping to be a space tour- ism hub, also offering private tours of its facilities. In May, Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, achieved its first human spaceflight fromthe port. Last November, Virgin Galactic’s CEO Michael Colglazier says he sees the space tourismprovider bringing up to $1bn in annual revenue per space- port in the future. Usually, however, due to the dan-

gerous nature of launch activities (and numerous historical and recent


examples of accidents), spaceports are sited in remote locations or near to water. “Someof the spaceports could fall downby being very remote,” says Rasmus Flytkjaer, the divisional director of London Economics’ space team, noting that spaceports require transport infra- structure and customers to visit their site. “The fundamental question is

howthe spoils of the spaceport are being shared with the local commu- nity. If it’s a tourism-dependent area, the spaceport might be able to bring in more people, but there’s also the risk of displacement,” he adds. Ms Johnson at the CSIS

Aerospace Security Project notes that a single aspect of the industry is not going to sustain all of these spaceports. “It’s really a combina- tion of all these different signals: proliferated low-earth orbit, nations reinvesting in space and the poten- tial for space tourism,” she says, add- ing that all these factors make it more likely for different nations to start developing their own space- ports, even without specific launch providers attached to them.

Debris risks Another downside is that while capital continues to be pumped into the launch of more satellites and spaceport development, the atmosphere is already extremely crowded. Thousands of objects, both active and inactive, are in orbit around the Earth, leading to many alerts for collisions. “The conversation in the space

policycommunity and international community has also becomeincreas- ingly focused on sustainability and protecting the domain itself,” says Ms Johnson. In early April, UK-based OneWeb

had tomove one of its satellites to avoid a close approach with a SpaceX Starlink satellite. OneWeb head of government affairs Chris McLaughlin subsequently told the Wall Street Journal that SpaceX had a “gung-ho” approach to space, join- ing other rivals in their criticism of Mr Musk’s attempts to create a near- monopoly. Amonth later, the Long March

5B rocket carrying part of China’s Tianhe space station fell to Earth uncontrolled, drawing international attention and focus over the unregu- lated nature of space. China has significantly increased


its activities in space in recent years, and experts express concern about the militarisation of space and the ability to take downother country’s satellites. In 2018, China launched more vessels into space than any other nation.

Local opposition Spaceports are not without their detractors, including local commu- nities. In 2017, thousands of protes- tors blocked entry to the Guiana Space Center (CSG) used by Arianespace and the European Space Agency, to bring attention to social and economic issues in their country, over which France still has jurisdiction. A proposed SpaceX spaceport on

Biak, a small island located near the northern coast of Papua in Indonesia, has led to kickback from local residents concerned about its impact on the environment and its potential to displace people,while in both Michigan in the US and Scotland, environmentalists have rallied against the proposed space- ports due to concerns over the local ecosystem. “Spaceports, companies and

countries need to think more criti- cally about sustainability,” saysMs Johnson. “All these missions that are planned are going to increase the amount of active satellites in space almost exponentially if they all take off.” But in a high-tech futuristic

industry forecast to grow rapidly in the coming years, the excitement and potential to create high-paying jobs fromnew space economyclus- tersmay be too tempting to ignore. As rapid advances in space-related technology and activity build the case for spaceports to be developed worldwide, only timewill tell if they will blast off or fail to launch.■

For interactive maps and graphics on the new space race, visit June/July 2021

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