An Arizona Spaceport? This Group Wants to Make it Happen

Article originally posted on Phoenix Business Journal on March 14, 2019
Arizona Spaceport Alliance officials suggesting the state should develop a horizontal spaceport similar to what is operated in California by Virgin Galactic, which takes off like a typical airplane.

The Arizona Spaceport Alliance wants the state to be front and center in the space race.

Specifically, the group is raising awareness for the need to build a spaceport in the state to increase the economic development of Arizona’s burgeoning aerospace manufacturing industry.

With 1,200 companies in the industry, from traditional to supply chain, giving out more than $5 billion in payroll annually in Arizona, the two founders of the Scottsdale-based alliance are questioning why the state doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the eight states with a spaceport, such as Texas, Florida and California.

Karyn MacVean and Benjamin Hernandez started the Arizona Spaceport Alliance a year ago and are leaders of the aerospace practice group at commercial real estate firm Keyser.

The founders are spreading the word and gathering interested companies to show the benefits of building an Arizona spaceport.

“Arizona is very competitive in the aerospace market, but there is a gaping hole in the market because we don’t have a spaceport,” Hernandez said. “In the end, there’s no way for a company who needs to test their products in space to do that in Arizona.”

Benjamin Hernandez is a co-founder with the Arizona Spaceport Alliance.

The Valley is home to large aerospace companies such as Honeywell Aerospace (NYSE: HON), Able Aerospace Services, Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) and Iridium Satellite LLC (Nasdaq: IRDM). Tucson also has many aerospace companies including Raytheon Co. Missile Systems (NYSE: RTN) and Vector Space Systems Inc.

The state is perfect for a spaceport because of the number of days with sunshine, clear skies to fly, a strong aerospace manufacturing market, a strong university system and NASA project cooperation, Hernandez said.

Aerospace research and development jobs traditionally go to California and Florida, but with an Arizona spaceport those jobs could stay in the state, MacVean said.

“Many graduates with degrees in engineering and science don’t find meaningful employment in the state” in aerospace manufacturing, so many leave the state, MacVean said.

Karyn MacVean is the co-founder of the Arizona Spaceport Alliance.

The alliance founders said some traction has developed in Yuma for a possible spaceport, and the two said there are other areas and cities that are viable spots, including Maricopa County. They said some aerospace companies are interested in joining the push, but declined to provide specific names.

One idea is to build a spaceport at an existing airport, MacVean said.

“We really want to leave the conversation open so this venture could ultimately be successful,” she said.

It takes three studies to get a spaceport: a market study, a site study and an environmental assessment.

The Federal Aviation Administration approves any U.S. spaceports, which costs between $750,000 to $900,000 to build, Hernandez said.

The hard part is forecasting how much growth is tied to the type and size of a spaceport, and the founders said they are not comfortable giving projections.

“Our goal is to make sure the conversation happens around the idea since we’re seeing a lot of market activity,” MacVean said. “We feel Arizona is an ideal environment for a spaceport and can help in the aerospace success. We don’t want companies to skip over the state since we don’t have a spaceport.”