There are spaceports all over the world, but they're built by governments and militaries and meant for launching super secret spacecraft, not your luxury liner to the moon. The idea of regular spaceflight is still something we leave to astronauts and sci-fi authors, but the U.K. is taking its first step toward that goal, and the U.S. its second.
The U.S. is home to the world's first commercial spaceport, Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America. While still a young port of call for commercial spacecraft, it has launched sounding rockets and prototype space planes. In pursuing a commercial spaceport such as Spaceport America over a government-run facility such as Cape Canaveral, the hope is to build a fast-moving hub for reusable spacecraft, such as the Space Shuttle and, maybe one day soon, a varied fleet of space planes.
In the U.K., David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, announced plans to "to determine how the U.K., indeed the whole of Europe, can best position itself to take advantage of space plane activities."
The reason? With so many commercial companies looking to get into space, and so few proper commercial spaceports, Willetts sees a vacuum waiting to be filled:
"At present, in my view, Europe is not ready to grab this opportunity — and we must not lose out. We must formulate a regulatory framework that will allow reusable aircraft-type launchers to operate here."
NASA and the FAA are already looking into creating such a regulatory framework.
While we're not quite ready for space tourism to take off, there are plenty of companies in the process of developing reusable spacecraft. Also, outfits such as Planetary Resources are out to find ways to turn sub-orbit and beyond into a business model. That makes a commercially-focused spaceport to launch from a lucrative prospect.
Getting a government to sign on is one way to do it — and then there's the approach of a company such as SpaceX. SpaceX, fresh from the successful berthing of its Dragon crew-and-cargo capsule with the International Space Station, wants its own spaceport. Right now, that spaceport could end up in Texas, a state already closely tied with the space program thanks to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, which helps with launch duties as well as provides training and research grounds for NASA.