Note: Click on thumbnails for full-size pictures.
While at home in Ohio for Christmas, I had some spare time, so I visited the nearby Rickenbacker International Airport, the preliminarily proposed location of a spaceport for the development of PlanetSpace's Silver Dart suborbital launch vehicle. Rickenbacker is on the South Side of Columbus, Ohio, and was, until its closure in 1980, the site of Rickenbacker Air Force Base, a major logistics center for the Air Force. The airport has parallel runways each of 12,000 feet in length, making the airport suitable for the takeoff and landing of large aircraft and spacecraft. By way of comparison, the longest runways in the U.S. are about 15,000 feet in length, including that for Oklahoma Spaceport. Like as happened with the Oklahoma Spaceport/Rocketplane, the state and local governments in Ohio may provide up to $20 million in tax incentives for PlanetSpace to develop its vehicle at Rickenbacker.
Columbus is a city of 1.7 million people that has come to prominence due to the construction of Interstate 70, one of the main freeways through the Midwest. This is the land of warehouses and accompanying light industry. Even though downtown has a few skyscrapers, most of the city and surrounding area consists of pleasant and cheap-living suburbs that have grown consistently but slowly over the years. Columbus has largely avoided the manufacturing decline plaguing other parts of Ohio and the Midwest and enjoys a healthy, if unspectacular economy. The Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the United States by enrollment, is located in the city.
Upon closure of the Air Force Base, because Rickenbacker is located only about 2 miles South of I-270 -- the freeway around Columbus -- the local governments decided to provide substantial long-term tax incentives for relocating warehousing and logistics businesses to the area. Large warehouses are being built, apparently on speculation.
Many businesses have taken the local governments up on their offer of tax incentives. Not far from the airport are large warehouses for various multinational companies adjacent to cornfields waiting for warehouse or light industry construction.
The airport is promoted as a Foreign Trade Zone. I'm not sure what that means specifically, but it could mean that the port is set up with customs infrastructure to receive international air freight.
The tarmac at the airport/FTZ is several miles long, part of which is devoted to the operations of FedEx, a major tenant. The airport has a wide variety of tenants.
I toured the airport on Wednesday. There weren't many people around, due I'm sure in large part to the fact that it was the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.
The airport has a small terminal, which accepts charter passenger flights. It is about 10 miles South of Port Columbus International Airport, the main passenger airport for the city.
In addition to freeway access, the airport has excellent rail access. Norfolk Southern has had a hub at the airport for decades and is building a major facility next to the airport to handle up to 300,000 container transfers per annum. The scale of activity at and near the airport is extreme compared to the spaceports that I have visited (Spaceport America, Blue Origin/West Texas, and Mojave).
So does having Planetspace at Rickenbacker make sense? Columbus' weather is not a positive factor when thinking about a spaceport for suborbital tourism purposes. The weather isn't harsh when compared to much of the rest of the Midwest, but cloudy days are plentiful. Since suborbital flights last only 5 or 10 minutes in space, you wouldn't fly on cloudy days. Also, there are large population centers to the North (Columbus, Cleveland, etc.) and to the East (Canal Winchester, Washington, Baltimore, etc.), which doesn't seem conducive to orbital spaceflight with our current state and mode of technology. There is no place to drop a stage. On the other hand, it seems like the city would be a good location for regular orbital spaceflight with a carrier aircraft/daughter spacecraft approach, like that of Scaled Composites' Tier Two.
At Port Columbus during the early 1960s, my grandfather worked as an engineer at the since-closed North American Aviation facility (North American Aviation was bought by Rockwell, which in turn was bought by Boeing). However, nowadays there is not much aerospace design legacy in the area. All workers designing and manufacturing a spacecraft would need to make the move to Columbus. As stated, the area is pleasant and has a low cost of living. Culturally, the city has a lot to offer, especially with the presence of OSU, but it is not at the level of Los Angeles or other major metropolitan areas. On the other hand, the city center is close and a wide variety of living styles are available nearby -- from a townhouse in German Village to a cabin in Wayne National Forest.
I am surprised by all of the tax incentives that the state and local governments seem willing to provide. Further, it's not clear whether the incentives could be turned into cash, as Rocketplane accomplished with its tax incentives from Oklahoma. Perhaps these tax incentives are easier to obtain from governments than thought previously, and should be sought out as a matter of course by aerospace entrepreneurs. Perhaps tax incentives are becoming the way of the world today.