Does the US have too many spaceports, or too few?

There are more licensed private spaceports in the United States than you might guess — but depending on who you ask, there aren’t nearly enough.

Last year saw new records set regarding the size and number of investments in space tech, and a fair amount of those funds went to launch startups. There are more still coming online, including more than a few that plan to begin flight testing this year, which begs the question: Where will these spacecraft and launch vehicles take off from?

At the 23rd annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, a group of spaceport operators gathered to discuss their role in the space economy. Topics included regulation, different models that exist and public/private partnerships and the potential conflicts they create. But one of the more interesting subjects focused on whether we’re already spaceport-saturated — or, conversely, in urgent need of more.

“The key for moving spaceports forward is developing a robust network of spaceports across the nation,” said Alaska Aerospace President and CEO Mark Lester. “There are a handful, say 11 licensed spaceports right now, and only four with vertical orbital capabilities. That’s just not going to be enough — not for assured access to space.”

Lester said that in terms of locations that best suit the needs of commercial, civil science and government agencies, the U.S. lacks good coverage. Funding in the form of federal grants would help support development in a way that’s similar to what’s available for traditional aviation, he said, suggesting that it would also help “normalize what a spaceport is.”