Huntsville International Airport first in the nation to be cleared for spacecraft landings—Everything you need to know

Dream Chaser
Dream Chaser may be in Huntsville as soon as next year. (Sierra Space)

Huntsville’s status as the Rocket City is about to reach new heights.

Last Friday, the Huntsville International Airport announced that it was the first commercial airport in the nation to receive an FAA license that will allow commercial space vehicles to land there. Read on for more info about what that means.

Dream Chaser

Readying Huntsville for the Dream Chaser is a plan that has been in the works for years now. In 2014, public and private entities including Huntsville International Airport, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Sierra Space, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce and others began developing the concept of a landing place for space vehicles.

Then, in 2016, the Chamber of Commerce identified a landing place for Dream Chaser as one of three pillars in its commercial space strategy.

What is the Dream Chaser? A Sierra Space product, Dream Chaser is NASA’s “first ever winged commercial spaceplane.” It’s expected to start running resupply missions to the International Space Station as soon as January of next year. Here are some stats, courtesy of Sierra Space:

  • Capable of gentle runway landings, which is ideal for human passengers
  • Accommodates 12,000+ pounds of cargo + equipment
  • Configuration for as many as seven crew members, + supplies
  • Compatible with multiple different launch vehicles

The license

Huntsville International Airport recently welcomed Breeze Airways. (Breeze Airways / Facebook)

Huntsville International Airport originally applied for the license in November of 2021. The FAA’s approval was contingent upon an environmental assessment, which took into consideration the following factors:

  • Air space
  • Noise
  • Historical preservation
  • Wildlife
  • Impact to waterways

The license the FAA granted applies only to Dream Chaser reentry. However, it serves as a proof of concept for other similar commercial space vehicles, potentially opening the door for Huntsville International Airport to apply for new licenses down the road.

What leadership is saying

Saturn V
Commercial shuttles are joining rockets in Huntsville. (Emily Phillips / Hville Blast)

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey each congratulated the airport on the accomplishment:

“Huntsville has propelled us into another historic first for our state with the award of the commercial space vehicle reentry license for Huntsville International Airport. We appreciate the collaboration exhibited by our public and private partners to make this a reality.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

“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.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle
Emily Phillips
Emily Phillips
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