Huntsville first to win FAA approval for spacecraft landings

Public-private partnership worked to enable Dream Chaser landings in Alabama’s Rocket City

Sierra Space Dream Chaser spacecraft, selected by NASA for supply flights to the International Space Station.

Huntsville International Airport is the first commercial airport in the nation to win Federal Aviation Administration permission to land commercial space vehicles.

The North Alabama city has been hankering to earn that permission ever since the first Dream Chaser flight.

“The landing of Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport is part of a vision for economic development that continues our legacy in space science and taps into our workforce expertise and assets developed for the International Space Station,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

“The concept of a space vehicle landing began in 2014 with a consortium of public and private partners including Huntsville International Airport, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Sierra Space, RS&H, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Huntsville, Madison County, the City of Madison, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Military Stability Foundation and the State of Alabama,” the airport said in announcing its FAA approval as a reentry site.

Back in 2016, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce tagged winning the approval as one of the three keys of its space strategy for the region.

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“The Chamber has been working to build a commercial market for low Earth orbit using the Dream Chaser as the cornerstone,” the airport said in its announcement. “Efforts include sponsoring two competitions with the European Space Agency, hosting three workshops for industry and academic partners, hosting a panel discussion on research and development in microgravity at South by Southwest (SXSW), exhibiting at the National Space Symposium and Space Tech Expo Europe, and several media stories including a national profile on Fox and Friends.”

The FAA approval, which is specific to Dream Chaser for the time being, followed official assessment and public input on “air space, noise, historical preservation, wildlife and impact to waterways within the anticipated reentry trajectory of the vehicle.”

Airport Board Chairman Mark McDaniel, said, “This is a significant milestone for Huntsville International and for our community in the pursuit of landing a commercial space vehicle right here in Rocket City U.S.A. That’s going to be an exciting day, not just for the airport but also for the talented and dedicated partners in this effort.”

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