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Midland Airport Gets the Go-Ahead to Launch Space Flights

Governor Rick Perry on hand at the unveiling of a mockup of XCOR's "Lynx" spacecraft at MAF in 2012.

On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration approved a spaceport license application for the Midland International Airport (MAF), making the airport the first of its kind to be federally-licensed for commercial air and space flights.

"We are the 9th spaceport in the United States, but the first one that [also] has commercial service operations," says Marv Esterly, Director of Airports at Midland International.

Esterly was on hand in Washington, D.C. to accept the license approval.

The Midland Development Corporation (MDC) announced the news Wednesday morning, noting that the airport will now be called the "Midland International Air & Space Port." The MDC tweeted a photo of Esterly in Washington:


Esterly says the news is "truly exciting," and that the arrival of the private space industry to Midland could mean new revenue streams for the airport.

"To be able to have another industry at the airport will allow us to diversify those revenue streams, and be able to keep costs low to the air carries and other operators," Esterly says.

The approval of the spaceport license is another step forward for California-based XCOR's  launched from Midland.

The company's spacecraft, which it plans to finish building at a newly-opened research and development hangar at the airport, would take two passengers at a time for a quick tour of space just below orbit.

The company originally hoped to start launching those flights this year, but ran into delays, including concerns that sonic booms from space craft leaving and entering the earth's atmosphere

Esterly says taking the time to consider those issues is par the course for a new, experimental industry.

"It really is rocket science," Esterly says, "and you gotta make sure you get it right the first time."

In a statement, XCOR President Andrew Nelson praised the news, highlighting Midland's history of "conquering world-changing innovations" from "the original Midland wildcatters to the now high-tech horizontal drillers."

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales also praised the news, saying simply, "Midland's next frontier is space!"

City officials hope this new industry will diversify the region's traditionally oil-and-gas dependent economy, and stabilize the Permian Basin's all-too-familiar experience with the boom-and-bust cycle.

For its part, XCOR says its marketing these 20-minute-or-so space flights to researchers and life-long space lovers, not just tourists, although wealthy Chinese business people have been among those

The FAA still has to approve launch licenses for XCOR before those flights can actually start taking off.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.