EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — State lawmakers want to explore the idea of launching commercial spacecraft from Atlantic City International Airport.
State Sens. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, and Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, introduced a bill earlier this year that would create a nine-member commission to study the feasibility of the airport “successfully pursuing and economically maintaining” licensing as a launch site.
According to the legislation — which was introduced in January and referred to the Senate Transportation Committee — space tourism is expected to be a $34 billion industry by 2021.
“With private companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Orion Span investing millions of dollars in new technologies and infrastructure to create a space tourism industry, it just makes sense to explore the possibility of marrying our local tourism industry with the (FAA William J. Hughes Technical) Center and the National Aviation Research and Technology Park to bring in new, high-tech jobs for our local families,” said Brown.
The federal Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 “encourages, promotes and facilitates” the growth of commercial space launches, the bill states. Currently, there are 11 launch sites in the United States that have been licensed, according to the FAA.
Earlier this year, Brown asked area stakeholders to serve on the Economic Revitalization Advisory Committee to develop a plan to diversify Atlantic County’s economy. One of the recommendations from the committee was a request to introduce the bill.
Brown noted the airport is already a designated backup landing site for space shuttles.
While the Legislature has been preoccupied with legalizing recreational marijuana and now budget negotiations, Brown said that with the bipartisan support for his proposal (State Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, is a co-sponsor), he is optimistic about its chances to gain traction.
“I’m hopeful that as we move forward, my colleagues will shift their focus to ideas to grow our economy, such as the spaceport bill,” he said.
Joseph Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said the advisory committee considered several “unique” ideas to promote economic opportunities in the region.
“When you look at the airport, it’s such a huge asset for the marketplace,” said Kelly. “I don’t think it’s been recognized for the opportunities it presents.”
Under the state’s Garden State Growth Zone Program, economic development is being encouraged in the area encompassing Atlantic City International, the aviation park and the tech center and through the area’s designation as a federal Opportunity Zone.
Lauren Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, said the concept of space tourism is an opportunity to expand the region’s economic offerings.
“This spaceport has a great opportunity to build upon what we’re doing here to develop the aviation innovation hub,” said Moore. “This broadens our tourism product. This gives us a chance to create quality economic development opportunity around our aviation innovation hub while also broadening and diversifying our tourism product.”
The South Jersey Transportation Authority would be responsible for the costs of the commission study and would provide administrative assistance and support, according to the bill.
The SJTA executive director would be a member of the commission, while the governor would be responsible for appointing the remaining eight members. Among the provisions for appointed members: One would be an expert in federal aviation regulation, preferably with current or past experience at the tech center; one would have a background in higher education associated with Stockton University and the aviation park; one would have expertise in aerospace or astronautical engineering at an institution of higher education other than Stockton; two would live within 10 miles of the airport; two would own businesses within 10 miles of the airport; and one would have tourism expertise.
The bill requires that the commission hold public meetings and hearings.
The commission would be required to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature within one year of the bill becoming law.