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Alabama Wants to Build a Spaceport

The state is considering legislation that would make it one of a handful of states with a functioning spaceport.
June 3, 2015, 2:50pm
The US Space and Rocket Center, Circa 1970. Image: Michael Scarborough/Wikimedia Commons

Alabama is considering becoming one of a handful of states with a commercial spaceport.

The state's senate is considering a bill that would establish an "Alabama Space Authority" tasked with acquiring the land, licenses, and partnerships necessary to develop a "federally licensed spaceport."

The goal would be to attract commercial space launch companies like SpaceX, ULA, and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin to operate out of the state. The bill suggests the state is interested in "new space exploration, space tourism, and spaceport technologies."

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At the moment, the most popular spots to launch are in California and Florida, though a couple other states, such as Alaska and Virginia have launch pads that are primarily used for military and government operations. Alabama wants to join Texas, where SpaceX is building a private launch facility, New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic operates Spaceport America, and California, which has the Mojave Air and Space Port, as states with the country's top commercial spaceports.

Though lawmakers often tout spaceports as a potential economic driver, there's been little formal investigation into how much a spaceport can help an economy. Spaceports in New Mexico and California have gotten little use so far, but SpaceX's Texas facility is expected to add several hundred jobs to a small town economy. SpaceX apparently will receive as much as $30 million in incentives to build the spaceport there.

Logistically, it makes sense to put a spaceport in Alabama—the state could put it somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico to allow rockets to abort missions or ditch rocket stages over water. Alabama is already home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Space and Rocket Center, which serves as something of a museum.

Alabama has previously talked about building a spaceport, but the discussions never led to any sort of formal action. Last week, however, state senator Gerald Dial introduced this legislation, which has already garnered support in committees in the State Senate and House of Representatives.

"Eventually 20, 30 years from now, when space travel is more widespread, we hope Alabama can have a spaceport like Atlanta's airport," Dial told Alabama's WAAY TV, referring to the busiest airport in the United States. "We just think it's a natural fit, a no-brainer for our state."