Space: Hawaii's Final Frontier?

And you thought rail was contentious. Now, the state plans to apply for a spaceport license.

Photo: Courtesy of Rocketplane Global

It sounds like science fiction. But to Jim Crisafulli, director of Hawaii’s Office of Aerospace Development, civilian space travel is as real as jet travel to and from the Mainland. Thanks to House Bill 994, which passed in July, Hawaii will, over the next three years, conduct environmental impact studies and community input surveys in the hopes of joining the ranks of states like Florida, Oklahoma and New Mexico, which already have spaceport licenses.

“It makes a lot of sense for Hawaii to be in this industry,” says Crisafulli. The minimum cost for the state is $500,000, just to apply for a license from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. That’s a lot of money to throw down for an industry that’s mostly in its conceptual and test phases.

The current plan hopes to use existing runways and airports, such as the Big Island’s Kalaeloa Airport and Kona International, to launch space planes. Space planes, which are still being developed, look like small business jets and can carry five passengers plus a pilot. They would take Hawaii passengers about 75 miles offshore before jumping to Earth’s suborbit. After a plane climbs to about 50,000 feet, it shoots into the sky at a face-melting 2,644 miles per hour. Passengers will then feel weightlessness for three to four minutes as the plane falls from suborbit at 350,000 feet. The proposed route would take passengers from the Big Island to Oahu, and feature premium travel packages—for $200,000—that include hotel rooms and space camp training. 

Ticket prices “might come down in three to five years [after the program is running],” says Chuck Lauer, of Rocketplane Global, a company developing a space plane and interested in starting civilian space travel in the Islands. It may be another three to four years before Hawaii taxpayers would even see a properly tested plane. So why invest?

“There are a lot of benefits to it,” says Lauer, mentioning the possibility of job creation, state tax revenues and an envisioned space center near Kalaeloa Airport, where locals can attend space camp or stop by for the day and learn about space travel.