Saturday, November 21, 2009

Commercial spaceports eyed for eastern N.C.

Fair disclosure: Lunar Pioneer Research Group has been studying the concept of locating a commercial spaceport in eastern North Carolina for two years. - JCR

Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot

A new aviation business park and long, isolated runways in eastern North Carolina could be keys to attracting commercial space-travel companies here, according to experts who attended a forum Thursday at Elizabeth City State University.

Leaders in the industry spoke during the daylong NewSpace Commerce Forum, including Jeff Greason, CEO of XCor Aerospace in California; Robert Richards, CEO of Odyssey Moon Lt d.; and Jeff Krukin, a consultant in the field who helped organize the forum.

It was the first forum of its kind in North Carolina, Krukin said Friday.

"The opportunities now are better than they have ever been in North Carolina," he said in an interview.

Flying tourists into suborbital space, from 30 to 65 miles up, is expected to be the leading service in the new commercial space industry but companies also hope to launch satellites for the military and private companies, Krukin said. XCor Aerospace and Odyssey Moon are among the companies building and testing reusable spacecraft.

"We're watching an industry evolve," Krukin said.

A handful of people have paid millions to travel to the International Space Station. A suborbital flight would run about $200,000.

Greason told forum organizers that his company may look for a site in the eastern United States, Krukin said.

Manufacturing parts for reusable spacecraft is a niche in the field, said Wayne Harris, director of the Albemarle Economic Development Commission in Elizabeth City. The new aviation park would be a good location for a parts manufacturer, he said.

Scattered through the region are isolated, longer airfields that could be improved for commercial space-travel facilities.

ECSU added aerospace courses this fall to its aviation program, the only four-year degree in the field available in the state.

The Global TransPark business complex outside Kinston has a runway of 11,500 feet and already serves as a backup landing site for the space shuttle, said ECSU economic development consultant Rocky Lane, who helped organize Thursday's forum.

Nine years ago, Lockheed Martin was a partner in the VentureStar project, which sought to launch a craft from a vertical position carrying satellites into orbit for NASA and private industries. An old airfield in Hyde County was among the sites considered, but the project never materialized.

- Originally published in The Virginia Pilot, Nov. 15, 2009
Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159,

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