DENVER
09/26/2012 03:55 pm ET

Spaceport Colorado: FAA Approves Feasibility Study Grant For Denver Spaceport

The Rocky Mountain High is poised to get even higher.

Colorado U.S. Sens Michael Bennet and Mark Udall announced Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) approved a $200,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for a possible spaceport in Colorado.

The feasibility study is the first step in the process of Colorado actually getting a spaceport for commercial space flight.

“Having a spaceport in Denver will make Colorado a leader in space travel and solidify our reputation as a pioneer in the 21st century innovation economy,” Bennet said in a statement.

Gov. John Hickenlooper also has high hopes for Colorado's commercial spaceflight industry. Toward the end of 2011, he began working with the Federal Aviation Administration to arrange for a spaceport designation in the Front Range, the Associated Press reported.

Hickenlooper also signed the "Spaceflight Entity Limited Liability" bill (SB12-035), sponsored by Sen. Mary Hodge and Rep. Bob Gardner, which provides the legal protections necessary for spaceflight companies to operate without fear of excessive lawsuits from participants in spaceflight activities.

The plan would transform the Front Range Airport, just six miles from DIA, into a spaceport where space craft could launch tourists and other commercial passengers into space, according to the Denver Business Journal. When Hickenlooper made the announcement of the bid at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science back in December, he said to to the audience comprised of aerospace industry members:

These are the opportunities, like cell phones in the early 1990s, that seem far fetched but may not be all that far away. The potential here is huge.

A spaceport isn't just for travel into outer space, it also makes for dramatically shorter global point-to-point flights on Earth. Emerging technology like rocket powered space craft that launch horizontally, rather than vertically, allow for more affordable Earth travel as well as space tourism.

"A spaceport [allows] us to conceive of flying to Australia in a couple of hours … and that really does begin to revolutionize how we think about, not just travel, but how we do business," Hickenlooper said during a talk at the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

Colorado is viewed as a good fit due to it being the home to over one hundred aerospace companies, programs and military aerospace command centers. In terms of a state space economy, Colorado passed Florida, and and is second only to California. Udall echoed those sentiments in his statement about the grant adding, "This competitive grant will support Colorado’s advances in the way we travel in space, and will help grow economic opportunities and well-paying jobs for Coloradans.”

Although a spaceport does sound very future-forward, some states like New Mexico have already built a similar facility in Spaceport America -- the world's first spaceport designed for commercial space flight -- and there are already seven other spaceports licensed around the nation. And the FAA is expecting big things from space tourism as well, predicting that it will become a billion-dollar industry within a decade.

The Denver Post reports that Spaceport Colorado would be the first spaceport in the nation to offer horizontal launch.

"We see Spaceport Colorado as a key driver for bringing a wide array of spaceflight-related business to our state, including spacecraft development and manufacturing, advanced scientific research, and crew training," Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation said in a statement. “Commercial space transportation is a rapidly-growing industry sector, and as the nation’s second-largest private sector aerospace economy, Colorado is already playing a leading role in the commercialization of human spaceflight."

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