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Front Range Airport officials want spaceport status

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Front Range Airport officials are preparing for a Spaceport Colorado launch.

If approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, Spaceport Colorado could some day send people to the outer edges of Earth and into orbital space. Officials plan to submit a license application to the FAA in December to get spaceport approval for the 3,100-acre airport about six miles southeast of Denver International Airport.

An environmental proposal is expected to go out for review at the same time as the license application. Airport authorities plan to hold a public meeting so residents can have input during a 30-day public review period, said Dave Ruppel, Front Range Airport director.

Potential sonic boom-level noise is one concern that airport officials expect to see. Ruppel said that the airport has done noise mapping — and are required to do continuous checks — to ensure operations don’t exceed a 65-decibel threshold.

“One of the evaluations we have to do is look at the path of flight, and evaluate what the noise impacts are along the path of flight,” Ruppel said. “No. 1, around airports, you usually have something called an airport influence zone and that's built off of your noise mapping.”

Airport officials want the FAA to approve a “Concept-X” vehicle to be able to take off from the spaceport in the future, Ruppel said. Such vehicles look somewhat like the Space Shuttle and take off and land horizontally like jets do, according to a Spaceport Colorado plan online.

The “rocket plane” is flown by a pilot and reaches suborbital altitudes.

Airport officials previously wanted the FAA to approve a “Concept-Y” vehicle that would also take off and land horizontally but would be rocket-powered.

Governor John Hickenlooper in 2011 said Colorado would try to seek spaceport status.

A “Concept X” vehicle operates similarly to a jet, meaning the testing transfers over fittingly from original airport noise mapping, even at high-elevation sonic-boom speeds.

“Adams County has done a great job of setting out this area out here,” Ruppel said. “We want to make sure that people on the ground aren’t going to be negatively impacted by these things and so that mapping will determine what that is. All of our studies so far has indicated that we don’t really have a negative impact especially where the special use airspace where it is.”

The area being designated for potential Spaceport Colorado use heads east, away from nearby residential zoned areas.

At the same time,Reaction Engines — a United Kingdom-based hypersonic and space access propulsion company that specializes in air-breathing rocket engines — will start building and testing engines at the airport in November.

The airport can do aerospace engine testing, even though it doesn’t have an operating license for the spaceport, Ruppel said.

“(Reaction Engines’) goal is of course is the space piece of it, ” Ruppel said. “But because it has an air aspect to it, it's something we can do here right now without being a spaceport.”