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Opening of the Oklahoma Spaceport

By adiffer in Technology
Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 12:49:24 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

On Saturday, March 23 2002, the State of Oklahoma cut the ribbon on their newspaceport. The estimate for the number of spectators ranges from 300 to 2000 people depending on who is asked. The day dawned very cold and windy; so manypeople came and went from the old B-52 hangar in order to warm up in their cars parked in the lot nearby.

The series of events that occurred is available in other articles. Needless to say, there were some speeches, thank you's, and promises made for future events. There is no need to duplicate what journalists have already reported in articles listed here. Instead, this report will focus upon things that did not get said elsewhere.

Burns Flat is a small town in southwestern Oklahoma. It is a dying town. Anyone who has traveled on the American Great Plains for more than a few days has seen many towns like this. The people who live there know quite well what their future is likely to be. Some are bitter about past decisions. Some have lost hope. The school bus sent to collect kids in the morning is nowhere near full. The local banker is now running a gas station/diner.

This small town lost something very important when Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base was closed in the early 70's. It lost more when the town elders failed to grasp an economic opportunity and let the town of Clinton take ownership of the base. It lost even more over the next couple of decades as promises were made to develop the place and nothing seemed to happen. Some businesses and jobs were created to fold later with no lasting impact. Some of the older hangers fell into disrepair and eventually fell to the ground. Clinton-Sherman Airpark, as it is called today, is in use and many of the buildings are filled. Those using it though, have not brought it up to its former level of economic activity; so there is still a strong desire to reshape the place by those who want more.

On March 23rd, the people of Burns Flat got to see something they honestly did not expect to see happen. The folks who tried to reorganize Clinton-Sherman Airpark as the Oklahoma Spaceport and put together an opening event managed to get a small aerospace company to show up and fly something. No big rockets or high-speed aircraft were needed to make the opening event the biggest thing to happen in Burns Flat for an entire generation. Just the fact that someone followed through on a promise has given many of the people living near by somehope.

The people who officially made the opening event happen can be categorized into a few groups. First, there are the politicians who want to create jobs in the region. Second, there is the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority (OSIDA) tasked with creating a spaceport and bringing aerospace to Oklahoma. Third, there is Takeoff Technologies and its partners who organized many things and won the proposal that actually became the opening event. Fourth, there is JP Aerospace (JPA) and its volunteers who brought their vehicle to fly, discovered it was too windy on both of the allotted days and improvised enough to get both of the planned payloads into the stratosphere anyway. Together, these groups managed to create something for the people of southwest Oklahoma that they haven't had for longer than they can remember. Some of them left the event feeling that they just might have a place in the future.

A fifth group, though, had a definite impact on the event. Without the residents of Burns Flat and the surrounding area being there on preceding days, it is possible the motivation of the volunteers of JPA to improvise solutions and get payloads flown would have been lower. The fellow who operates the local hardware store got a little choked up when JPA members showed up in his store needing to buy some things they had accidentally left in California. He wouldn't let them buy anything. Instead, he donated the small items and lent the bigger ones. The volunteers felt strongly appreciated and decided to give him the first platform flown from his spaceport after it was recovered. The former banker had special t-shirts printed up to sell at the event. He saved one and asked many of the JPA volunteers to autograph it. There were many other interactions between localresidents and JPA members that helped to provide an emotional glow that effectively beat back the cold and the wind and made it worth spending vacation time from their days jobs in Oklahoma instead of at some nice beach.

For those who might consider participating in future events at the Clinton-Sherman Airpark, they need to be aware they are likely to receive strong support from the people of Burns Flat if they treat the local residents like they matter. After the fact, it was discovered that three bedroom homes could be rented in Burns Flat for prices similar to single occupancy motel rooms with maid service just like one would expect in a motel. If the next event is likely to accidentally cause a few sonic booms, the locals are much more likely to cheer than complain. Set aside a little money to help fix a few windows that might break and you are covered. If any company operating from the airpark found any reason to create even a single job there that could be filled by a young person, they would likely get unasked for special treatment in the local politics.

While there are a great many things that worked and some that didn't, from the perspective of the people hoping for a future for their small town, the opening of the Oklahoma Spaceport not only worked, it was the most important thing to happen to them ever. Each of the groups that helped make it happen noticed the emotional impact on the people who drove for hours in the dark time before sunrise to see it happen. This is the kind of impact that gets politicians elected, brings in local support for events others might consider a tad risky, and draws companies that rely on public appearances and public relations for their well-being. Whether or not this combination of events reoccurs, future event organizers have something strong to work from in creating a future for aerospace in southwest Oklahoma. With a strong will, greater things could grow from this seed.


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Would you go to Oklahoma to watch a space flight or test?
o No 26%
o Yes 38%
o Maybe if I happened to be in the US 35%

Votes: 68
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o here.
o Clinton-Sh erman Airpark
o Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority
o Takeoff Technologies
o JP Aerospace
o Also by adiffer

Display: Sort:
Opening of the Oklahoma Spaceport | 44 comments (26 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
No fair! (3.12 / 8) (#8)
by MattOly on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 06:42:16 PM EST

I wish my town had a spaceport!

A final note to...the Republican party. You do not want to get into a fight with David Letterman. ...He's simply more believable than you are.

location? (none / 0) (#21)
by adiffer on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 08:34:17 PM EST

Where is that? Do you have an airport of a reasonable size?
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]
The name says it all. (none / 0) (#29)
by Verminator on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 05:55:36 AM EST

Matt lives in Olympia, Washington and a spaceport there would be great. Then I'd have a good excuse to head up to the Frozen North and drink a lot, tour the spaceport.

So long as one is alive, death doesn't exist, except for other people. And when one is dead, nothing exists, not even death. -- Aldous Huxley
[ Parent ]

Re: (none / 0) (#32)
by Dolgan on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 12:48:16 PM EST

"Frozen North?" Admittedly I don't know much about Olympia's climate, but common sense tells me that it'd be awfully similar to Portland's and Seattle's, which is neither that north, nor really frozen. In fact, snow in Seattle is a rarity. Too much rain, not cold enough.

Drink Hawaiian Punch.

[ Parent ]

the 'tulsa world' must have its head up its ass (4.37 / 8) (#10)
by turmeric on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 06:52:07 PM EST

they have not published a goddamn thing about this space port, or maybe they put it on the 8th page where i missed it. on the other hand, spring fashions are in and there is a sale at 'best buy'.

good luck you guys.

Thanks (nt) (3.50 / 2) (#44)
by Dolgan on Mon Apr 08, 2002 at 05:07:25 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Let's hear it... (4.60 / 5) (#13)
by yostinso on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 07:05:58 PM EST

...for effective private investment in space. This seems to me to indicate a pretty serious step in the right direction. If only there were more demand for spaceports, we could start sticking 'em all over the place. I have a question about the legal standing of the spaceport, however. Is it a fully privately owned establishment? How much government involvement is there?
I'm asking because I wonder if there's less regulation, cheaper launch prices, etc, at the site, which would doubtless encourage more launches.

+1FP, for a happy story to make my day.

--E.O. Stinson

I fight for truth. I fight for glory. I fight for love. I fight for beauty. I am Hero.
Ownership and activity focus (5.00 / 4) (#14)
by adiffer on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 07:11:10 PM EST

The spaceport is owned by the State of Oklahoma as far as I know. It is managed on a day to day basis by SWODA for OSIDA. There are other tenants at the site with good leases that probably go through SWODA, but I'm not privvy to those details.

At the moment, I believe OSIDA will work with anyone that has a chance to make jobs appear in the region. In the mean time, they will probably settle for the equivalent of airshows because vistors bring money into the area when they need to buy gas, food, and other stuff.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]

Nice to see some local leaders care (4.00 / 2) (#18)
by Randall Burns on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 07:32:17 PM EST

about the folks in their community-and are willing to do something creative in the way of a local industry. The leadership of the Midwest town I grew up in big economic step forward was to lobby to get a prison placed there(the presence of which is having a lot of negative effects).

Armadillo Aerospace (4.71 / 7) (#22)
by khallow on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 09:27:58 PM EST

The amateur rocket group, Armadillo Aerospace founded and headed by John Carmack, has a contract with the Oklahoma Spaceport. Turns out that one of the big advantages is the perceived jump over the huge bureaucratic roadblocks that the US government has placed in the way of private launch companies. Here's a quote from AA's weekly report of March 16, 2002:

On Wednesday, I signed an official memorandum of understanding between Armadillo Aerospace and the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. One of the provisions is that I look to Oklahoma companies for my fabrication needs when possible, which I am more than happy to do in return for OSIDA?s help in getting flight clearances for our higher altitude testing.

Here, the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority is the organization in charge of the Oklahoma Spaceport.

From what I've heard, the bureaucratic hurdles are considered to be more serious obstacles than the technology problems. In that sense, the Oklahoma spaceport may turn out to be one of the most significant space-related news stories of this decade because it helps open up the launch industry to those who don't have extensive political connections.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

very good (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by adiffer on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 10:04:00 PM EST

I hadn't heard whether the MOU was signed or not. Good to hear it.

There were representatives of three other companies present at the opening, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are more MOU's in the offing. Jim Benson of SpaceDev, Pat Bahn of TGV, and Chuck Lauer of Rocket Plane Ltd were all present.

I believe XCOR has an MOU in the wings too.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]

Nice to see it (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by relayswitch on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 10:36:38 PM EST

I'm a space geek, can't help it. It's cool to see civilian aerospace take a surge forward. now if only I could get my city leaders to let me conduct high-altitude balloon launches....


Public Service Announcement (none / 0) (#26)
by physicsgod on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 12:08:07 AM EST

Attention People of Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia: Duck.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
proximity (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by adiffer on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 12:14:13 AM EST

You forgot Texas. Was that intentional? 8)

Seriously, though, the FAA is working to protect you and your property. You might not see it, but those of us who have to convince them to let us use the airspace definitely do. Their arguments are strong enough to make Congressional members back down.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]

Not proximity. (none / 0) (#39)
by physicsgod on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 03:27:10 PM EST

"downwindedness" (boy I love making up words). Any launch into a low inclination orbit travels eastward (except from Israel, they don't make it a policy to launch stuff over their neighbors on a regular basis), thus any launch from Oklahoma would pass over the afore-mentioned states.

Anyway I just wanted to make the point that there's a reason all US low inclination launches take place on the east coast of Florida.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]

oh... I see. (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by adiffer on Mon Apr 01, 2002 at 03:19:08 PM EST

Then just as an information point, the cordinates for the hangar where we set up and let loose our balloons are as follows.

35 degrees 21.208 minutes North
99 degrees 11.673 minutes West
573 meters above sea level

Without an expensive mid-flight correction, the lowest inclination orbit from tis site is right around 35 degrees. The actual number would depend on which end of the runway is used.

I'm inclined [8)] to think that folks will aim more for the ISS orbit or the highly inclined ones like the sun-snychrounous one or the recon ones. The highly inclined orbits take you over the populated sections of Texas, the western Gulf of Mexico, southern Mexico, and maybe some of the northern countries in Central America before you are out over large stretches of safe water. The sun-synchrounous orbit takes you over the Yucatan and the heart of Central America. Obviously, stupid mistakes are not tolerable.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]

There's a good reason it's in OK (3.00 / 4) (#28)
by kcbrown on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 02:37:18 AM EST

It's where the FAA headquarters are located.

And it's FAA approval that will be required prior to launching anything.

I wish the space companies good luck. In the overregulated world of aviation in the U.S., they're going to need every bit of it.

Can it. (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by Lethyos on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 01:26:59 AM EST

I wish the space companies good luck. In the overregulated world of aviation in the U.S., they're going to need every bit of it.

Please tell me you're joking. This "overregulation" on aviation in the US has undoubtably saved many lives. Normally I am greatly opposed to any increased regulation. In most cases, if a company fails to take proper care of its customers, those customers take their business elsewhere. However, with aviation, if companies fail to care properly, people lose their lives. Do you honestly believe that airliners and other aviation industry players are so keen on keeping things safe? I doubt it. Be thankful we have the FAA.

earth, my body; water, my blood; air, my breath; fire, my spirit
[ Parent ]
I dunno (none / 0) (#38)
by khallow on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 11:57:10 AM EST

Please tell me you're joking. This "overregulation" on aviation in the US has undoubtably saved many lives.

This is true. However, I suspect that future generations will discover that the regulations on rocketry were meant more to stop or at least control independent rocket development rather than for any concern over public safety.

The FAA comes with its own baggage. For example, it's willing to spend billions for extra runways, but at least till recently couldn't be bothered to prioritize air traffic coming to busy airports. Small planes (with few passengers) take up as much space as big ones do in the air.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

The FAA's not as effective as you might think (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by kcbrown on Fri Apr 05, 2002 at 02:12:03 AM EST

Please tell me you're joking. This "overregulation" on aviation in the US has undoubtably saved many lives.

But compare and contrast with the automobile industry. The NHTSA sets minimum standards that all manufacturers have to comply with. The difference is that the NHTSA does not regulate how something gets done, only the results. So the end result is that automobile manufacturers are free to do what they please to keep costs down, while airplane manufacturers aren't.

Why is it that if I want to manufacture, say, upholstery parts for airplanes, I have to go through the process of getting FAA certification for not just my design, but my manufacturing operation as well? And when I want to make a change to the design, I have to get it and the associated changes to the manufacturing recertified? Doesn't that seem excessive to you? I mean, I can manufacture automobile suspension parts without any regulatory oversight whatsoever. The safety issues for those two cases seem quite a bit more significant for the suspension, yet the upholstery gets a lot more regulation. Do you believe that situation is acceptable?

If you do, then you'll have to explain why automobile safety has increased much more rapidly than general aviation safety.

I don't dispute that a regulatory agency can be useful. But might I suggest that if the regulatory agency's power is limited to investigating anything it wants to at will and publishing its findings for all to see, that perhaps the free market might do a better job of finding the proper safety versus cost balance?

One more thing: when a small private airplane (not a commercial airliner) crashes, the only people who are hurt are the occupants. It's extremely rare that anyone else gets hurt (I won't deny that it happens, but it's very rare). When an automobile crashes, it usually hurts the occupants of the automobile and others. Given that, doesn't it seem that the automobile should be much more heavily regulated than the small private airplane?

There's only one situation in which I would agree with you that the FAA's regulatory power would be proper: that if a manufacturer gets FAA certification, it has a solid gold defense against any product liability (since the FAA certifies both the product and its manufacturing technique). Well, that's not the case, so that makes the FAA useless. What good is safety regulation if the liability lawyers are going to take you to the cleaners for building an FAA-certified product when that product is proven to be less than completely perfect?

[ Parent ]

You anywhere near Duncan OK? (1.00 / 1) (#33)
by wiredog on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 08:30:46 PM EST

I programmed an automated chrome plating line for a company there several years back.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
Location (none / 0) (#36)
by adiffer on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 02:17:34 AM EST

Clinton is about 90 minutes drive west of Oklahoma City along I-40. Burns Flat and the Airpark is about another 12 miles west and 6 miles south. Elk City and Clinton are almost equally distant at that point.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.
[ Parent ]
Ahhh (none / 0) (#37)
by wiredog on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 10:55:10 AM EST

Duncan's about an hour south of OKC. Just as flat and boring though.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
HI (1.06 / 29) (#34)
by Legolas on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 08:49:06 PM EST



Ian Kluft's <KO6YQ> write-up (5.00 / 1) (#41)
by adiffer on Tue Apr 02, 2002 at 12:40:53 AM EST

Ian Kluft write up a good set of pages to go with his pictures of the event and has them all posted now. They can be found here.

Ian was the volunteer with the truck that was big enough and had a rack capable of being used to retieve the DSS from the field after it landed. He drove all the way from San Jose, CA in order to lend a hand doing that and many other things.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.

Ratings (2.66 / 3) (#43)
by Dolgan on Mon Apr 08, 2002 at 02:44:30 AM EST

Well, it works just like the K5 system, except the people who run the site don't feel queasy about deleting crappy comments.

Opening of the Oklahoma Spaceport | 44 comments (26 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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