Magazine article National Defense

Desert Airport Becomes Home to New Breed of Space Entrepreneurs

Magazine article National Defense

Desert Airport Becomes Home to New Breed of Space Entrepreneurs

Article excerpt

MOJAVE, Calif.--Robert Rice, airport operations director at the Mojave Air and Space Port, drove down a runway and pointed to the steel skeleton of a 68,000-square-foot building where spaceships designed to send tourists into sub-orbit will be constructed.

"We call this our field of dreams--build it and they will come. Well, finally they did," he said.

The "field of dreams" is actually a runway constructed six years ago with all its infrastructure--sewer, water, power lines--built underneath. "They" is The Spaceship Company--a joint venture of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites that will build a fleet of mother-ships that will launch smaller rocket planes about 60 miles above Earth.

Branson's venture is just one of many companies, large and small, that have come to this one-time World War II Marine Corps aviation base to pursue their dreams of space travel.

While there has been much consternation about the erosion of the space-industrial base in the United States, the facility shows that the field still attracts entrepreneurs who are enthralled by the glamour and challenge of space travel.

The airport, about 100 miles northeast of Greater Los Angeles, was the first to receive a Federal Aviation Administration license as a spaceport. It is now being called a Mecca for the so-called new space movement, a loose collection of entrepreneurs who want to continue the push for exploration.

It has about 67 buildings, many of them built as "temporary" structures in World War II. They house a variety of businesses, most of them aerospace-related.

"You can see even in this economy, we're building. We're 100 percent occupied," Rice said.

While old buildings are all leased out, the runway next to The Spaceship Company's facility has tracts of empty land ready for development

The spaceport has a control tower, safety equipment, and most importantly for the space entrepreneurs, plenty of empty land north of the runways where they can fire rockets or do static tests.

One of the occupants is Masten Space Systems, founded by David Masten. He was a rocket hobbyist at an early age, but went on to make his fortune in the information-technology industry. …

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