Skip to main content

Spaceport Looks to Propel Houston's Aerospace Future

Published Jun 10, 2019 by Javier Vargas

As Houston prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission this July, proponents of the local aerospace industry are eager to illustrate how the region continues to innovate in the arena, setting up the next generation of space exploration opportunities here in the Bayou City. 

One example is the Houston Spaceport being established at Ellington Field on the south side of the city. Construction is slated to begin later this month on the first phase of infrastructure at the facility; completion of that $18.8 million initiative is expected in May 2020. 

Arturo Machuca
Arturo Machuca

When fully realized, the spaceport could attract a variety of companies, from satellite developers to space vehicle manufacturers, advocates say. They point out that the Houston facility is unique because it’s in the heart of one of the nation’s largest cities, giving it access to talent and existing companies, not to mention proximity to NASA Johnson Space Center. 

The Partnership had the opportunity to catch up with Arturo Machuca, General Manager of the Houston Spaceport on what this development means for the Houston region’s future as a leader in aerospace and innovation. 

Can you describe your role at the Houston Spaceport and how that fits with the larger Houston Airport System?

I’m the General Manager of the Houston Spaceport.  This facility is part of the department of aviation for the City of Houston (Houston Airport System) which is formed by Bush Airport, Hobby Airport and Ellington. The Houston Spaceport is collocated at Ellington Airport which is a joint use military and general aviation operation. Among our largest tenants we have NASA, Texas Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Ellington Field has had a significant role in our nation’s aviation history. Can you talk a bit about its evolution?

Ellington Airport began operations in May of 1917. Our airport is one of the oldest airfields in the U.S. going back to times in which aviation operated under the U.S. Army.  Ellington Airport has had a permanent and very important role in the training of aviators and professionals in all areas.  In 1984 Ellington was part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.  In the same year the City of Houston acquired the facility and has been operating it since then keeping a relevant military, civil and general aviation operation. In 2015 Ellington Airport was licensed under the Federal Aviation Administration-Office of Commercial Space Transportation as the 10th commercial spaceport in the U.S. 

Spaceport Development is underway with significant milestones achieved thus far with great prospects ahead. Significantly, our vision and future remain connected to the training of professionals in aviation and aerospace. We are also focused in unmanned aviation systems, micro satellites among others.    

How did the concept of the Houston Spaceport become a reality?

Houston Spaceport became a reality due to the vision and support we have received from the federal, state and local governments, as well as the Houston community. Couple that with first class existing infrastructure and the perfect geographic location and the license for the Spaceport was granted.  We have plenty of work ahead as we continue to equip our spaceport with facilities which will ensure the relevance of the spaceport.

What sets the Houston Spaceport apart from other FAA-licensed spaceports across the nation?

Without a doubt placement of our spaceport in the middle of a vibrant city with world-class infrastructure and talent. 

When finalized, how will the Houston Spaceport impact the aerospace industry in Houston?

The Houston Spaceport will be a vital facility that will enhance our city’s infrastructure giving us a good head start by pioneering the future landscape in other large metro areas.  Houston will remain a relevant player in the aerospace industry and the Houston Spaceport’s plans will directly contribute to even greater economic success for our entire region. 

The Partnership is leading a delegation to the Paris Air Show this month to commemorate Houston's role in the Apollo 11 mission and discuss the region's aerospace future. Participants include the Spaceport, Rice Space Institute, SpaceCom and Space Center Houston

The Partnership is also hosting a NASA Tour and Panel Lunch event as part of its Regions and Neigbhorhoods program on June 19. Learn more about that event and sign up today. 
 

Related News

Aerospace & Aviation

New Collaboration Aims to Bolster Region's Aerospace Innovation Ecosystem

7/14/22
The Ion is taking a giant leap in innovation by partnering with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to launch a “technology transfer center” at the Ion to bolster the Houston-Galveston region’s aerospace innovation ecosystem.  According to a release, the private-public partnership will include events, programming and initiatives to develop new technologies for the commercial and private space industries and “accelerate tomorrow’s space endeavors” by giving entrepreneurs access to NASA’s IP portfolio. “This partnership will allow us to increase startups through our aerospace accelerator targeting minority businesses and help achieve NASA’s goals to enhance scientific and technological knowledge to benefit all of humankind, as we propel commercialization of space and work to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon under Artemis,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Houston has a large pool of aerospace talent and expertise with more than 23,000 professionals. The Houston Spaceport also positions the region as a leader in the emerging commercial space flight sector. In 2021, the Ion launched the Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises, which develops businesses tackling aerospace-related challenges with the support of NASA and DivInc. “Together our Ion community of startups, entrepreneurs and academic institutions, across industries and disciplines – from health care to sports, to ecommerce to resiliency – is the perfect place for human performance and for NASA to derive talent. Just as NASA is the perfect team to inspire our Ion community to reach for the stars. Together we will safeguard Houston’s title as ‘Space City’ and advance the global space industry for future missions,” said Jan E. Odegard, Executive Director of the Ion. The new collaboration is yet another example of recent prominent announcements underscoring the momentum in Houston’s aerospace industry.    
Read More
Aerospace & Aviation

2 Houston Companies Land Major NASA Contract to Design Next-Gen Spacesuits

6/2/22
NASA has selected two aerospace companies with a Houston presence to move forward in developing next-generation spacesuits and spacewalk systems. The announcement is the latest in a series of high-profile developments that are reigniting Houston's aerospace industry. Axiom Space, which recently broke ground on its headquarters at Houston Spaceport, and Collins Aerospace, which is building a manufacturing facility and startup incubator at Houston Spaceport, will compete for task orders under the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract. The contract has a maximum potential value of $3.5 billion through 2034.   “With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” said Vanessa Wyche, NASA’s Johnson Space Center Director. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.” The spacesuits will be for the International Space Station crew, astronauts on Artemis missions and future human missions to Mars. According to a company press release, Collins Aerospace says its new suits, designed by astronauts, are lighter and more adaptable, allowing for increased mission times. “Collins was there when the first man walked on the moon, and we’ll be there when humankind goes back,” said Phil Jasper, president of Mission Systems for Collins Aerospace. Axiom Space will design its spacesuits to provide increased flexibility and specialized tools for exploration and scientific needs, according to the company. “We are immensely pleased that NASA recognizes the value Axiom Space is providing across a range of human spaceflight activities, from our recent private astronaut mission to the ISS to the design and development of Axiom Station, and now to providing this critical system and associated services for astronauts in LEO [low Earth Orbit] and beyond,” said Michael Suffredini, Axiom Space’s President and CEO.  Houston Spaceport is located 20 miles south of Downtown Houston at Ellington Airport and describes itself as the world’s first truly urban commercial spaceport. The Houston Airport System is building the spaceport in phases collaborating with private sector tenants. Houston is home to 500 companies and institutions involved in aircraft or space vehicle manufacturing, research and technology, making the city an ideal site for aerospace and aviation companies to build or expand operations.  Learn more about Houston's aerospace and aviation industry.
Read More

Related Events