WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration issued a commercial spaceport license Sept. 17 to an airport in Midland, Texas, the first such license issued to a facility that also hosts commercial passenger airline flights.

George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, announced the awarding of the license, formally called a launch site operator license, to Midland International Airport during a meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington. The license is the ninth commercial spaceport license issued by the FAA.

The award is the latest milestone in efforts by the city of Midland to attract commercial space companies. In 2012, suborbital vehicle developer XCOR Aerospace announced it would move from Mojave, California, to Midland after the city’s economic development organization offered a $10 million package of incentives.

That move depended on several factors, including renovation of a hangar at the airport that XCOR will use, as well as receipt of an FAA spaceport license so that the company can perform test flights from the airport. Work on the hangar started in August with a “wall breaking” ceremony.

The license is the first awarded to an airport that also has regularly scheduled passenger flights. Several other airports also have spaceport licenses, including Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida; Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave; and the Oklahoma Spaceport in Burns Flat, Oklahoma. None of those airports, though, also has regular passenger service.

“Before today, we have never attempted to combine scheduled air carrier operations and commercial space operations at the same location,” Nield said. “This is a huge milestone for commercial space and an indication that the FAA is doing all it can to safely integrate commercial space vehicles and conventional aircraft within the national airspace.”

Marv Esterly, director of Midland International Airport, said that by combining commercial aviation and space operations in the same facility the airport can provide economies of scale over dedicated spaceports. 

“We’re leveraging existing facilities, runways, security, and emergency response,” he said at the COMSTAC meeting. “In doing so, we’ll definitely lower costs for space operations.”

Esterly added that with the approval of the spaceport license, the airport will now be known as the Midland International Air and Space Port.

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Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established spacetoday.net to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...