New Frontiers: Space Tech Ecosystem Begins to Grow Around Spaceport

An incubator designed to boost space tech startups could be operating in Houston in as soon as two years.

The incubator would be one part of the planned Spaceport to be located at Houston’s Ellington Field, the 10th such facility in the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration gave the former U.S. Air Force base the federal designation last June and local officials plan for a facility that would launch satellites and spacecraft, train astronauts, and provide massive 3-D printing facilities for young companies to develop hardware.

“Space is the new ocean,” says Mario Diaz, the director of the Houston Airport System, which is developing and would manage the Spaceport. “And Houston is a natural in terms of continuing space development.”

The Houston spaceport would join an existing cluster of space-related technology companies that have cropped up around NASA’s Johnson Space Center as the space agency has curtailed its activities and promoted more private-sector investment.

Among those are Intuitive Machines, a two-year-old Houston company that sells software to help oil companies drill more precisely using its founders’ experience in engineering for space environments; and Nanoracks, which sells to researchers transportation and access to lab space at the International Space Station. The company announced this summer a partnership with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to help scientists work in suborbital space or 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

On Tuesday, a group of about 50 city officials, entrepreneurs, developers, and space enthusiasts crowded a downtown Houston bar Tuesday evening to hear Diaz speak about initial project plans and to gin up excitement for the upcoming SpaceCom conference in November.

The project is in its early days. Right now, Diaz says among the first priorities is to seek private partners to help build out the spaceport’s facilities, which will also include a museum and a training center for civilians interested in taking flights to space. Currently, only a third of Ellington field is being used by general aviation aircraft or military purposes.

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