Colorado’s space race taking off

Colorado Air and Spaceport officially signs agreement to build a spaceplane

Belen Ward
Posted 12/8/20

Colorado has made its giant leap toward the future of passenger space travel to Europe within an hour by 2028. The Colorado Air and Spaceport, Director Dave Ruppel signed an agreement with Shuji …

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Colorado’s space race taking off

Colorado Air and Spaceport officially signs agreement to build a spaceplane


Colorado has made its giant leap toward the future of passenger space travel to Europe within an hour by 2028.

The Colorado Air and Spaceport, Director Dave Ruppel signed an agreement with Shuji Ogawa, CEO, and CTO, PD AeroSpace, LTD Dec. 2 to start the process to develop a fully-reusable horizontal suborbital passenger space plane called Pegasus at its Nagoya, Japan facilities.

“This morning we signed this important dream agreement. It marks an important step in the process of turning our facility at Colorado Air and Spaceport into a world-class point of operations for our Aerospace Partners, like PD Aerospace reaction engines and many more,” said Jim Siedlecki Adams County Director of Public Information.

Ogawa, in his Nagoya, Japan headquarters, signed a Japanese language copy of the agreement while Adams County Manager Raymond Gonzales signed the English language copy during the Zoom meeting while Adams County Commissioners watched. Then, both men documents on the Zoom screen in celebration of a new frontier.

According to Ogawa, space planes would fly up to 34,000 feet outside the Earth’s atmosphere, spending between four and eight minutes in zero gravity. Then, as the earth rotates, the space plane will fly back down and could land anywhere in Europe within 60 to 90 minutes. The long-term objectives are to build a space hotel and do space mining.

Important milestones

In 2011 Adams County began its quest for a spaceport site operator’s license through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) office of commercial space. The spaceport site license was awarded in August of 2018 to the former Front Range Airport in Watkins, Colorado.

Former Front Range Airport is located 35 minutes from downtown Denver it was renamed Colorado Air and Spaceport.

“With a robust Aerospace industry in Colorado there was immediate interest from potential Partners here in America, in the state, and across the globe by the spring of 2019,” said Siedlecki.

Later in the spring of 2019, Colorado Air and Spaceport received its operator’s license. So, spaceport and Weld County officials traveled to the research and development facility and met with the PD Aerospace staff in Hekinan city, which is just outside of Nagoya, Japan.

The PD Aerospace vehicles launch profile matched the license for Colorado air and Spaceport for a horizontal takeoff and landing. There will be no vertical vehicle landings at the site.

“It was their team’s ambition and aspiration that led to the signing of a letter of intent in Tokyo,” said Siedlecki. “As of Dec. 2, we’re excited to announce that we are advancing that relationship with PD Aerospace leaders from these two entities that signed a memorandum of understanding. It will outline PD Aerospace’s intentions to define its mutual roles and milestones to implement our partnership and collaboration. Also, it begins coordination with the United States Federal Aviation Administration to begin their test flights here in the U.S,” Siedlecki added.

There will be various spaceport conditions, environments as well as testing that are incorporated into the agreement for the vehicle design.

Gonzales said the Dec. 2 event was the culmination of plenty of work.

“Today’s signing of the MOU marks important progress in our relationship with PD Aerospace,” Gonzales said. “It is truly has been a collaborative effort when meeting the PD Aerospace. We have the full support of the Colorado space coalition the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and National Trade Metro Denver Economic Development and Aurora Economic Development Corporation.”

“We are all so grateful to have bipartisan support from our congressional delegation in gaining the site operator’s license from the FAA and our elected officials at the state and local levels have been backing our activities at Colorado Air and Spaceport signing. This MOU is more than one small step in our relationship with PD Aerospace.”

What does this mean for PD Aerospace?

Ogawa said the agreement is a crucial step for both Colorado and Nagoya.

“I would like to express sincere appreciation to those who are engaged in a discussion of this MOU and with Adams County and Colorado Air and Spaceport and other relations,” Ogawa said. “Thank you very much. It is a notable important step for our future. We can begin the collaboration coordination activities with the Federal Aviation Agency. We can incorporate various conditions and the environment of the spaceport into our vehicle designs. We will certainly be faced with a lot of challenges. We have some time, but I confident that we will achieve those together with the spaceport.”

Adams County Commissioners were also bullish.

“When we arrived at PD’s research and development facility the connection was instant their team of hard-working dedicated employees made us feel right at home,” Adams County Vice Chairperson Commissioner Mary Hodge said. “They were wearing blue jeans and they had their sleeves rolled up. These are Adams County people. I am so excited about the future and the vision we share with PD Aerospace and the future of the Aerospace industry.”

Commissioner Eva Henry also noted that the teams were ready to get to work.

“I want to highlight the fact that PD Aerospace was just like Adams County wearing blue jeans. I want to let Shuji know I’m wearing blue jeans,” Henry said. “PD Aerospace is developing a space vehicle that matches our license at Colorado Air and Spaceport. It’s a bit early to start booking your flights.

She also applauded outside investors from both countries.

“This is a company with significant investor’s expertise and support,” she said. “I want to congratulate PD Aerospace for their ongoing commitment to the research and testing during these challenging times and I want to say welcome to Adams County.”

Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said the agreement has been a long time coming.

“This is a tremendous day. Today’s announcement is the result of creating and building relationships with the right people and the right partners for our communities and Colorado Air and Spaceport will be taking the next step with PD Aerospace,” Tedesco said. “We continue to receive inquiries from other space-related companies here in Colorado and around the country and the world. We know this is an important next step for PD Aerospace and our team here in Adams County. And of course, the incredible staff at Colorado Air and Spaceport. Thank you very much.”

What are the plans for PD Aerospace?

The first phase is the development of the engine, the next phase is to design the airplane which would a sub-orbital for horizontal taking-off and landing and reusable with a new Concept X engine and a communication system. It will hold six passengers and two pilots to operate the plane. The testing site will be on the small island of Shimoji-Shima, Japan.

PD Aerospace will start testing and its business operations in 2024 at the spaceport. The official rollout could be 2028.

“We are developing the reusable winged rocket and jet of the spaceplane. We are looking forward to maximizing space utilization for private sector demand such as space tourism. Transportation is our key technology. It is the combustion mode feature which changes from jet to rocket mode. It was patented in 2012,” said Ogawa.

What are the plans for Colorado Air and Spaceport?

Colorado is currently number 11 of 12 license commercial spaceports and 12 more that are waiting to become spaceports.

“This is a very important industry and there’s a lot of activity,” said Dave Ruppel Director of Colorado Air and Spaceport. “Colorado, of course, is the number two aerospace economy in the country. They are lots of aerospace jobs here with nine of the prime aerospace companies, and over 500 other aerospace companies with suppliers in our proximity. It’s kind of an industry ecosystem,” Ruppel added.

According to Ruppel, Colorado aerospace infrastructure, 190,290 are employed in space-related jobs. And $3.5 billion in Colorado’s payroll. Colorado is the third-highest awardee of NASA prime contacts. Also, it is a location of choice for other international companies such as Astroscale and Ispace.

The future goal is for space tourism, point-to-point travel. Also, the spaceplanes would do deliveries to the space station such as payloads and satellites. Also, micro-gravity research experiments.

“There would be astronaut training and education manufacturing and also the development of the types of systems that support those activities as we create that aerospace ecosystem out of Colorado Air and Spaceport,” said Ruppel.

Another goal spaceport is looking at hardware testing and evaluation. And, eventually, get re-entry licensed for other types of space vehicles.

“Also adding technology development following with hypersonic technologies, data fusion centers, and a workforce that will support those types of developments,” said Ruppel.

The spaceport is an FAA licensed commercial launch site facility, with sub-orbital spaceflight capabilities for horizontal launch using reusable launch vehicles such as the concept X, dual propulsion system “Pegasus” that will be designed specifically for the spaceport.

It has a control tower, business services, and two 8,000 feet runways with over 1,000 acres for development. Over 6,500 acres for rail service and a business park on the south side of the airport, and 700 acres on the east side for rail and a business park. They are surrounded by more than 10,000 acres for future industrial-zoned land with water access, wastewater, electricity, data, and gas.

Ruppel said, “I think it was one of the things that stand out is the amount of room for development on and around the facility.”

The spaceport is in the process of planning the infrastructure, development, and funding.

“The spaceport master plan, which is similar to an airport master plan looks at the infrastructure development and the funding for infrastructure and forecasting of the types of business interests in the area and the future for us. Also, we look at the area around the Colorado Air and Spaceport the sub-area,” said Ruppel.

According to Ruppel, Adams County is evaluating the land users and the zoning to make sure the spaceport has compatible land uses in those areas that will protect the spaceport’s future.

“It’s the reason that we are here today. We are very happy to have a relationship with PD Aerospace and are excited to see their ongoing development and their efforts in Japan,” said Ruppel.

Currently, at spaceport Reaction Engines from the United Kingdom are doing high-temperature engine testing technologies at one of their facilities both for aviation and for aerospace.

Also, New Frontier Aerospace will be doing some compound testing at the spaceport. It is a type of technology for a hypersonic aircraft. It’s just testing, not flying a vehicle.

“We are excited to have them on board as well,” said Ruppel.

“It’s important to remind everyone that we aren’t just selling our assets at a Colorado air and Spaceport to these companies. We are selling Colorado in the important quality of life. We all enjoy our state’s reputation as a global leader in Aerospace. It is important to these companies as Colorado’s ongoing commitment to a high-tech employment state-of-the-art research facilities in our universities and military installations,” said Siedlecki.


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