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11.22.18
Off World

The US Has Tons of Spaceports But Not Enough Launches

September 6th 18__Kristin Houser__Filed Under: Off World
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TOO MANY PORTS. In all of 2017, 29 spacecraft launched from three launchpads in the U.S.

So why do we now have 10 active spaceports — sites for launching or receiving spacecraft — when seven of them are just taking up space?

That’s the question explored in a report published by WIRED on Wednesday.

The problem seems to be that the reality of space travel today simply doesn’t match past expectations.

“For many of us who’ve been following the commercial space industry for the past 10 to 15 years, I think it’s going slower than everybody had hoped,” aerospace and spaceport expert Brian Gulliver told WIRED. “We expected more launch vehicles to be operating now.”

AN OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK. Of course, just because those expected launches aren’t happening yet doesn’t mean they won’t in the near future.

Several companies are working tirelessly to usher in the era of space tourism. When (or if) they’re successful, people across the nation could eventually flock to these spaceports to hitch a ride off-world.

Satellites are also getting smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, which means we could see an increase in launches in the near future — another potential use for the U.S.’s many spaceports.

IF YOU BUILD IT… The organizations (some public, some private) in the cities hosting currently-dormant spaceports hope that having the facilities in place could draw aerospace companies to set up shop nearby. Then, when those companies are ready for liftoff, the spaceports will be able to fulfill their intended purpose.

And it costs some serious cash to be “hopeful” — one spaceport in New Mexico, for example, cost almost $200 million to build.

For each spaceport to host even one launch per month, we’d need to more than quadruple 2017’s number of launches. That’s not likely to happen overnight. So for now, the people invested in those spaceports will just have to hope theirs is one of the lucky ones to host the handful of launches currently available.

READ MORE: America’s Spaceport Boom Is Outpacing the Need to Go to Space [WIRED]