Colorado Spaceport teams up for spaceplane

New Zealand maker inks deal for Colorado-based horizontal take-off spaceplane

Belen Ward
Posted 6/17/21

A New Zealand Aerospace company is joining the race to create a horizontal take-off and landing spaceplane that will fly from Colorado above the earth's atmosphere and fly back down landing on a …

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Colorado Spaceport teams up for spaceplane

New Zealand maker inks deal for Colorado-based horizontal take-off spaceplane


A New Zealand Aerospace company is joining the race to create a horizontal take-off and landing spaceplane that will fly from Colorado above the earth's atmosphere and fly back down landing on a runway.

The Colorado Air and Spaceport signed a Memorandum of Understanding June 15 with Dawn Aerospace from Christchurch, New Zealand.

James Powell Co-Founder of Dawn Aerospace, working in New Zealand, joined Adams County Manager Raymond Gonzales remotely via the Zoom teleconferencing service to sign copies of the agreement. The copies had been signed by either party ahead of time

The new agreement will create a working relationship with Dawn and the Spaceport as well as an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct test flights and spaceplane launches from the Spaceport, which is located in Watkins, just southeast of Denver International Airport.

Gonzalez praised the agreement.

"It truly has been a collaborative effort and we've enjoyed getting to know this innovative company, their products, and people," Gonzalez said. "It's not only a partnership between Colorado Air and Spaceport and Dawn Aerospace, we have the full support of the Colorado Space Coalition and the Governor's Office of Economic Development and International trade."

"We look forward to furthering our place in the aerospace industry," he added. "Partnering with extraordinary companies like Dawn Aerospace, their type of technology launching horizontally using a typical airport runway that will open up many options and opportunities at Colorado Air and Spaceport, we are completely on board with this partnership. And we are excited to see what the future holds."

In New Zealand, Dawn's Powell said it's a game-changing agreement for his company and for the entire industry.

"This represents a really important step for our company and expanding our capability globally and leveraging the flight heritage and the developments that we've been working on in New Zealand this week," he said. "We do it as a paradigm shift in the spaceflight industry. And we think that this will enable vastly more capability in spaceflight. And bringing this to a global market is important for us. And we think it's an important strategic difference in doing that we can to expand this and bring this to a global audience."

Milestones of spaceport

Adams County began its pursuit for a spaceport site operator license through the FAA office of commercial space In 2011 and was awarded an operator license in August of 2018. The state renamed the sleepy Front Range Airport in Watkins and gave it new purpose as the Colorado Air and Spaceport.

Adams Deputy County Manager Jim Siedlecki said, "with such a robust aerospace industry in Colorado there was immediate interest from potential partners domestically and across the globe."

Colorado Air and Spaceport has already established a relationship with PD Aerospace from Japan. It's building a reusable horizontal take-off and landing passenger spaceplane that will fly above the earth's atmosphere sitting in zero gravity for up to 10 minutes and as the earth rotates will fly back down landing in Paris within 60 to 90 minutes. That project's potential completion is in 2024.

Also, Reaction Engines from the United Kingdom is on-site at Colorado Air and Spaceport developing a hybrid rocket engine and a hybrid or a proprietary spaceplane. They are also are conducting breakthrough testing on its thermal management system on the east side of the spaceport.

In addition to spaceport is New Frontier Aerospace company developing a hypersonic space aircraft that will have the capability to deliver important packages quickly around the earth within the atmosphere.

"New Frontier is specifically working on rocket engine testing and controllability testing for its vehicle. So, we're very excited to have them on board as well," said Dave Ruppel Director, Colorado Air, and Spaceport.

Colorado Air and Spaceport is one of the 12 FAA licensed commercial spaceports in the United States. Of the 12, eight are horizontal launch-only facilities and six are dual-use facilities like the Colorado Spaceport. The dual-use facilities are active commercial airports that have compatible spaceport operating runways.

"I think Colorado is a unique place because as the number two aerospace economy in the country, we have a tremendous part of the industry here. There are lots of aerospace-type jobs. We've got nine of the prime aerospace companies that have major operations here in the state of Colorado said, " Ruppel said.

"We have state support from the governor's office, the Federal delegations, the state delegations, the economic development organizations, and local municipalities, not just supporting the aerospace industry, but also support for the Colorado Air and Spaceport," he added.

Colorado Air and Spaceport plans

Colorado and Air and Spaceport has plenty of room to grow, with a roughly 7,000-acre business park development and heavy rail surface park development to the south. Another 700 acres to the east has the potential operations to support companies that are interested in sites for their businesses. The main facility has FAA-licensed horizontal launch site capability with two 1,000-feet runways. They have several hangars and an air traffic control tower with approach capabilities to support both aviation and aerospace capabilities.

"We've completed an airport master plan and just completed the spaceport master plan so that we can look at the infrastructure developments that are needed, both for space uses and the aviation uses to make sure that we dovetail those together very carefully," said Ruppel.

Ruppel added, "We also look at the area around the Air and Spaceport. Adams County is completing a sub-area plan to make sure that we have compatible types of businesses and operations, both around the facility and on the facility."

Dawn Aerospace plans

Dawn Aerospace is a space transportation company and currently has built a satellite propulsion system that is two years old and is currently in orbit.

"It allowed us to mature rapidly as a company, both in the technical domain and the commercial domain. And it empowers us as we move on into the launch capabilities, and make sure that we've got all of the business systems in place to do this robustly," said Powell.

"From the satellite propulsion, the next stage is the suborbital system, and to the Aurora spaceplane," said Powell. "It is like commercial flight; it's accessible, it's available, it's very cost-effective and it the goal we are working towards," he added.

The Aurora Spaceplanes will also be built as a reusable horizontal vehicle that will take off into sub-orbital or orbital space and fly back down landing at a runway to refuel and continue to fly multiple times per day.

The first model the Aurora Mach two a sub-orbital system will be the size of a car and will land to pick up payloads and equipment. The Mach three orbital system will be the size of a small business jet and pick up larger payloads, such as large satellites. There are no plans yet to build a passenger spaceplane for travel.

At this time, Dawn Aerospace does not have a solid plan yet as to when they will make a presence in Colorado. There are bureaucratic processes to complete, such as licenses, Powell said.

"It's not an overnight process. So, unfortunately, it's not going to be a next week or next month. This is a very important first step for us and we're excited," said Powell.

Spaceport, Colorado, space plane, Dawn Aerospace


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