Sunday, February 22, 2004
Las Escaleras a las Estrellas By Ed Todd , Midland Reporter-Telegram 08/26/2002
FORT STOCKTON, TEXAS (MRT) - If all else fails, don't give up. Fort Stockton didn't, and it won the right for a spaceport.

And the spaceport carries a name befitting its vision and reality: "Las Escaleras a las Estrellas" --the Stairs to the Stars or the Ladder to the Stars.

It is an inland -- well into the West Texas desert and plateaus -- site for commercial ventures on a mini-scale of what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the commercial aerospace giants, such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, are doing and plan to do.

The spaceport is being developed in a competitive economic climate for Texas and, particularly, for West Texas wherein towns, big and small, are competing for dollars via ED -- economic development.

"All of us have been used to the oil business and agriculture" as economic forces, said Pecos County Judge Delmon Hodges. "And this spaceport is another deal that we think will handle that" -- more economic development, Hodges said. "And the fact that we have such wonderful climate will fit into that" aerospace industry. "We have 360 days a year of sunshine. That's one reason during World War II they (federal government) put all of these (United States Army Air Corps) training stations out here so they could train the pilots. There's no bad weather."

And the U.S. Air Force "figured that they could do this same deal" at the Fort Stockton spaceport for launching satellites" via a private commercial aerospace company.

The Pecos County/West Texas spaceport Development Corporation last week signed a contract with JP Aerospace, a California-based commercial company that has a multi-million-dollar contract with the Air Force to launch satellites by rocket and balloons "to the edge of space" at 100,000 to 120,000 feet.

JP Aerospace calls itself "America's Other Space Program."

"It will be great for all of West Texas," said Doug May, administrator of the Pecos County/Fort Stockton Development Corporation that sought the spaceport in cooperation with the Texas Aerospace Commission.

JP Aerospace's first launch from the Fort Stockton "Las Escaleras a las Estrellas" site on ranch land south of Fort Stockton will be on Oct. 5 and 6, said John Powell, the 39-year-old president of the 40-employee company that, he said, is "getting bigger all of the time." His company, which is headquartered in Rancho Cordova, Calif., is out-growing its current launch site in northern Nevada.

"This is great," Powell said of the Fort Stockton site. "We have been looking for a (new) site" in a open area that is relatively free of aircraft traffic. "And the existing spaceport sites are too expensive. They are not really set up for commercial work. This is absolutely commercial work" at Fort Stockton.

"The timing was perfect," Powell said. "We were desperately looking for a spaceport." His chief engineer is Norman Brock.

JP Aerospace is carrying out experimental satellite launches for the U.S. Air Force, which "wants to be agile -- mobile," said Bill Looke, the Texas Aerospace Commission's executive director.

The TAC agency seeks to help develop the aerospace industry and to promote aviation in Texas.

The Air Force wants to "launch small satellites about the size of a football," Looke said, and wants "the capability ... to put a satellite up real quick."

Air Force experiments

"JP Aerospace is running these experimentations for the Air Force," said Looke, whose name is pronounced as if it were "Luck."

JP Aerospace is developing:

* The Ascender, a V-shaped, 110-foot-long carbon-fiber flying wing that soars at 120,000 feet (22.7 miles above Earth) and is "part balloon, part airplane, part satellite" and falls under the Air Force's Near Space Maneuvering Vehicle (NSMV), Powell said. Its solar-powered electric motor turn propellers.

JP Aerospace has developed:

* MicroSat Launcher Rocket (ML), a two-stage rocket that is launched from a high-altitude (100,000 feet or almost 19 miles) balloon platform. Its Air Force name is "Combat Access." The ML rocket launcher is designed to place small satellites into Earth's orbit. The ML is a two-stage solid propellant rocket that has a 100-mile, low-Earth-orbit (LEO) maximum altitude. Coupled with the Dark Sky Station Launch platform (DSS), the ML rocket is launched from the DSS at 100,000 feet above Earth. First flight of the ML rocket prototype was September 1999.

The MicroSat Launcher is designed to place small satellites into Earth's orbit, Powell said. At the commercial level, JP Aerospace's single satellite LEO (low-Earth orbit) launches are at "affordable prices."

JP Aerospace also has an educational program, PongSat, by which JP Aerospace "at no cost" to schools or its science students will fly "table-tennis ball" satellites to "the edge of space by balloon or rockets. The PongSats are then returned to the students. JP Aerospace's PongSat program may be reviewed on the Internet at

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