Payloads in Paradise


The nation's 50th state could be the home of its first private spaceport by the middle of the decade.

Hawaii's Office of Space Industry is considering two possible sites, both on the southeast coast of the Island of Hawaii, for a privately constructed and operated spaceport that would launch commercial, scientific, and government payloads of up to 18,000 pounds into low earth orbit. The OSI expects to choose a site and complete an environmental impact statement by the end of 1991.

The state will then purchase the necessary land—several hundred acres—and lease it to a private consortium that has yet to be selected. OSI Director George Mead says the project should be under way by early 1993 and could be completed within 18 months. That timetable would probably make it the first facility of its kind in the world.

The current spaceports—in French Guyana, China, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States—are all government-controlled. Scientists and businesses look to private spaceports for cheaper and more reliable service. Companies are already planning to build spaceports in Australia, Brazil, and Indonesia.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean and near the equator, Hawaii is well located for orbital launches. Gov. John Waihee first announced plans for the spaceport in 1987; the OSI was created the following year.

Mead says the facility likely will include one pad each for Delta and Atlas rockets, allowing 10 to 12 orbital launches each year. It will also launch sounding rockets for atmospheric measurements and microgravity experiments.