Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Lao Spaceport for 4,228,500,000 Kip?

An interesting article from Jeff Foust at The Space Review discusses the seeming glut of spaceports being designated across the US without necessarily having a sufficient number of clients to make use of the spaceport.
Japan, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates are among those who are pursuing development of spaceports. They're not all at the same level of maturity, however.

It looks like the present budget for a spaceport is around half a million dollars a year. The downside is that means about 4,228,500,000 kip. This of course doesn't include the costs for marketing and promoting or convincing people to come to the Lao Spaceport.
Primarily, the companies preparing to develop the relevant spacecraft include Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin,Masten Space Systems, XCOR Aerospace, Virgin Galactic and Rocketplane Global are considered the main companies to watch. Unfortunately, Rocketplane's finances went bust and they're all but out of the picture now.

A robust spaceport would need to be able to accommodate craft that take off by rocket power or by jet power, and by vertical and horizontal take off. From the looks of it, as a spaceport needs to be able to do routine aeronautics as well, and this includes aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul work as well as getting cargo companies like to make use of the airport element of the spaceport.

There could be many positive arguments for developing a spaceport in Laos, if understood correctly. Laos' central location in Southeast Asia with access to Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and Southern China could be an advantage. Spaceports are presently developed to attract high-technology businesses and jobs, attracting a billion-dollar industry to a region, but there are legitimate concerns if this does not gain traction. Initial rides in a Virgin Galactic ship currently cost around $200,00. That's pretty pricey.

The most obvious candidate for converting an existing airfield would be the Wattay International Airport, although the relevant runways would have to be at least 4,100 feet, if not more. I don't think developing the airport at Luang Prabang or Pakse would be a good idea for this venture. But perhaps I'll be overridden.
There is, of course, also an airfield over at Long Tieng, but that hasn't been maintained for about 35 years now.

During this time, while Laos was developing a spaceport, it would definitely need to ensure adequate science, reading, math, logistics and engineering skills, particularly in aerospace sciences. Otherwise, all of the jobs that would emerge from having a spaceport would have to be held by non-locals for many years and defeat much of the purpose for building a spaceport.

As far as American colleges go, Caltech, MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor have consistently scored very high for programs in Aerospace Engineering, although there are many other colleges which offer fine programs as well. The Caltech Jet Propulsion Lab, however, makes it particularly attractive to many candidates.

Would Laos' long-term engagement with the aerospace industry be desirable? That's a question we should ask ourselves, but I don't think we should automatically dismiss it if we are to see the continued growth and development of Laos.

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