Houston: Spaceport Pre-Development Launches at Ellington Airport
Feature Illustration (above): Predevelopment has begun at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport. Courtesy: Houston Airport System.
by Edmond Ortiz
Houston (Harris County)–The groundwork for development of the Houston Spaceport is now being laid at Ellington Airport.
The planned infrastructure will accommodate private companies and educational institutions working to advance commercial space travel, aerospace research, and manufacturing.
Site work for infrastructure began June 26 to support future tenants is being installed, Houston Airport System (HAS) officials say one prospective company that is eyeing a 7-9-acre site at the spaceport is close to finalizing an agreement with the city to relocate there.
Texas Sterling-Banicki JV LLC, which was awarded an $18.8 million design-build contract by the City Council in October 2018, began working in late June to put in roads, water, wastewater, fiber optics, electrical distribution facilities and communications as part of Phase 1 of spaceport development.
This initial phase of development, which covers 154 acres, is scheduled to be done by May 2020. Long-range spaceport plans call for development of 450 total acres around the airport.
Development of the Houston Spaceport has long been a dream for Houston-area political and business leaders. That dream began to become a reality in 2015 when the Federal Aviation Administration approved the application for the 10th commercial spaceport license in the nation.
According to HAS officials, the idea is to turn hundreds of acres of available land at Ellington Aiport into a campus where the spaceport offers various built-to-suit leasing opportunities.
Here, potential like-minded tenants and partners could collaborate on research and development of aerospace engineering services and products.
Such services and products would include space vehicle assembly, component and composite development and fabrication, zero-gravity scientific and medical experiments, microsatellite deployment, astronaut training and development, and space tourism.
HAS officials also envision development of a terminal that visitors would use as part of commercial supersonic flights to domestic and international destinations.
“When complete, Phase 1 will provide the ground work to support the companies that produce the cutting-edge innovations needed to take commercial space travel and aviation into the sub-sonic, super-sonic and hyper-sonic realm,” Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz said in a June news release.
Phase I development of the Houston Spaceport will consist of more than 150 acres of built-to-suit lots for various aerospace companies and educational facilities. Image: Houston Airport System
Phase 1 work is taking place in the south quadrant of Ellington Airport, near the Sonny Carter Training Facility, which houses NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. The spaceport development will have immediate access to two runways, one of which is capable of expansion.
Ellington Airport accommodates all types of operations involving general aviation carriers, all five military branches and NASA, so it is designed to handle virtually any horizontal take-off aircraft or spacecraft.
Even with Phase 1 development underway, existing facilities around Ellington Airport are being used to host aerospace businesses. All 53,000 square feet of laboratory and office space in the Houston Aerospace Support Center are already occupied.
But HAS officials have indicated one company proposes bringing 120-200 jobs to the Phase I development area. The City Council, officials added, would review an agreement with that company in the near future. Details about that company have not been revealed.
The airport system is also talking with local universities about the prospect of joining forces to put together a research and development campus in one part of the Phase I area.
San Jacinto College already leases space in the aerospace support center, and plans to train aerospace manufacturers there.
Local government and business leaders are optimistic that even the early stages of growth the Houston Spaceport will begin to spur interest in more retail, hospitality and office development in communities surrounding Ellington Airport, which sits along Galveston Road 15 miles southeast of downtown Houston.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.