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Private Space Programs Ready For Liftoff

As private companies take over the space industry, a new space race is being born—this time with major economic ramifications. Here are some of the projects ready for liftoff, the markets that are benefiting the most, and the real estate that's supporting it all.



Houston’s Ellington Airport was recently announced as the 10th spaceport in the US—the only one in a major metropolitan area. According to Bob Mitchell, president of Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, this location provides tremendous resources and access to a skilled workforce, with a subcontractor community of over 80 aerospace companies.

The first Houston Spaceport infrastructure building, 53k SF adjacent to Ellington, is scheduled to open in 2018 and already has two tenants, Intuitive Machines and UK-based Catapult Satellite Applications. Ellington Airport GM Arturo Machuca says the building will allow them to solidify ongoing commercial relationships with aerospace companies, bringing new demand drivers to the Houston area. Want in on the action? Ellington's got 600 acres available to lease.


Nestled into the desert of New Mexico is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America. The 27-square-mile compound has a 12k SF runway, and the Gateway to Space building, which houses hangars and training facilities. The spaceport is the permanent home to Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo as well as SpaceX’s Falcon 9R. And just this month, Google freaked everyone out when plans to build a radio transmitter at Spaceport America came out.

And while it's working on the whole "sending the average Joe to space" thing, Spaceport America is making good use of its real estate, offering itself up as a wedding venue or tourist destination.

Land and Real Estate Considerations

Dan Seal, executive director of special initiatives for the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, envisions the majority of new real estate demand in and around the new Houston Spaceport will be specialty laboratories, light manufacturing and testing facilities, and quite a bit of office space for R&D and life science applications.

Though Houston’s forthcoming space port represents an urban location, most companies testing, designing and engineering rockets prefer the flat, dry climates of desert areas, making these areas a hot commodity. (See what we did there?) Adding revenue streams to these otherwise unused areas of land could prove huge for ancillary development of warehouses and R&D space. Private space organizations also rely heavily on electronic communications as well as powerful computers and engineering tools, meaning big business for infrastructure companies.

Hardware and Services


As the first company to market its own hardware and services on board the International Space Station (ISS), Houston based Nanoracks is one of the greatest examples of the influx of private space companies. Nanoracks started in a Houston garage, and has since opened offices in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC, with its home base strategically near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This location puts them in close proximity to Houston’s forthcoming Spaceport and makes them a strong player for future NASA contracts and a skilled labor force.

Boosters and Delivery Systems


Florida isn't giving up its stronghold on the space market. Bob says that although the state is mostly doing assembly and testing now, it's boosted by a state-funded program named Space Florida. At one point, the state was funneling as much as $20M into the project, though now he thinks it's around $10M to $12M.

Florida has a SpaceX launch site, but most notable is Blue Origin’s September 2015 announcement that it'll launch missions from Cape Canaveral, breathing new life into the launch site from the private sector. Blue Origin made waves in the private space flight industry by being the first company to launch and then land a booster rocket. Its New Shepard system is a fully reusable vertical take-off, vertical landing system, which lessens the impact of two of the greatest factors holding space travel back, waste and cost.

Blue Origin has another indirect real estate connection: It's led by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, bane of retailers everywhere and now a brick-and-mortar retailer itself.


Elon Musk’s SpaceX was recently named one of only three private companies that will act as ISS delivery service for NASA. The company has launch facilities, development facilities and offices throughout the country (including a 550k SF HQ in California, launch site at Cape Canaveral and multiple Texas locations) and is spending much of its resources testing engines and launching rockets with satellites. SpaceX has over 70 launches on its manifest, repping over $10B in contracts—including $1.6B with NASA. SpaceX is also in preparation for the next phase with NASA, called Commercial Crew Transportation Capability.

Check out Elon Musk's real estate here, including pics of his SpaceX facilities.

Commercial Space Flight


When it comes to commercial spaceflight ambitions, Virgin Galactic is setting the pace. Sir Richard Branson, who owns the airline, says his goal is to democratize access to space for the benefit of Earth and to create the first commercial spaceline. Imagine being able to trek the entire globe in a few hours, all while taking in an out-of-this-world view. Though Virgin Galactic is an international entity, it's also the anchor tenant for Spaceport America.

Privatization of the space industry has not only resuscitated space flight, it's pumping fuel into the economy and helping NASA stay relevant. Next up on Bisnow, companies selling plots on Mars. Hey, it could be closer than you think!