<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=205228923362421&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

Francis Walker, an architect with a focus on designing Spaceports around the world.

Francis Walker is an Associate Principal at Corgan, an architect with a focus on aviation and by extension VertiPorts and in particular Spaceports.





What do architects think of when designing spaceports? Francis Walker is the Director of Corgan's London studio. Corgan is a large U. S. based architect with core expertise in aviation, data centers, commercial healthcare, education. Francis and his team design spaceports around the world and walk us through the process of designing the gateway to space.

You can connect with Francis on LinkedIn and learn more about Corgan on their website. 

Remember to leave us a 5-star rating and review in your favorite podcast app. 

Miss an episode? Sign up for our weekly intelligence briefing, Signals and Space, and you’ll never miss a beat.

Selected Reading

Airports to Spaceports

Audience Survey

We want to hear from you! Please complete our 4 question survey. It’ll help us get better and deliver you the most mission-critical space intel every day.

Want to hear your company in the show?

You too can reach the most influential leaders and operators in the industry. Here’s our media kit. Contact us at space@n2k.com to request more info.

Want to join us for an interview?

Please send your pitch to space-editor@n2k.com and include your name, affiliation, and topic proposal.

T-Minus is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. © 2023 N2K Networks, Inc.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space from N2K Networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus Space Daily podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

[ Music ]

And when we think of port designs, we think of functionality. But does that extend to spaceports? Francis Walker joins us on this episode to walk us through the process of designing the future of spaceports across the world.

>> Francis Walker: I'm the director of Corgan's London studio. Corgan are a large US-based architect with core expertise in aviation datacenters, commercial healthcare education. My focus is on aviation and, by extension, vertiports and, in particular, spaceports. So very exciting place to be right now in that world.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes. Thank you so much for joining me today. And the reason I'm so excited to speak to you today is, when I think about a lot of things related to infrastructure, often design and beauty and aesthetics is not necessarily top of mind. Function is very important. But you're in the world of marrying the two together and also thinking about what a spaceport can be. So can you walk me through a little bit about your thoughts on maybe where we are with spaceports now and maybe where we should be thinking about taking them in the future.

>> Francis Walker: What's significant for us, as a firm, we've been doing aviation since commercial aviation was -- was a new thing. And we've looked at a lot of projects internationally, and we've looked around the world at doing airports and doing aviation work. And, you know, there are big aspects about airports which are about security, operation, commercial drivers but also about how the passenger feels when they come to the airport and the idea of gateway and the idea of arriving in a new place. And, you know, when we work with countries, they're very invested and understand the value of the airport being a gateway. So, if we extrapolate that to spaceports, there's no more romantic gateway for us right now than the gateway to space. And because we have that sort of expertise in how things operate, but we also understand the value of the experience being memorable and of kind of the psychological and emotional challenges that people will face. When traveling, there's a certain amount. They might be traveling for the first time. And, in the context of space, there is going to be an increasing number of people traveling for the first time in a way that very few people until now have traveled. So what did they need to reassure them, to give them some comfort, some orientation, some stillness, whatever it is that the need to facilitate the -- or to alleviate the stress of that journey. It's kind of the same conversation that we have in aviation and in vertiports with EV, too, which is another emerging modality that involves us leaving the ground. So I think you are right that infrastructure tends to be a heavy word that's used in heavy ways. But we tend to stick cooler words in front of infrastructure to try and paint a different picture. So we talk about evolutionary infrastructure, which is very much about space and very much about helping us move forward as a species into space in a way that is meaningful and that can be scaled up and that can take root because I'm not the expert on the challenges that a person faces going into space. As you know, there is -- there is a whole group of experts around the health and well-being of astronauts. That's a separate subject for me. What I'm interested in and what I'm curious about is a number of things that happen on our planet that are related to it. So, from the perspective of spaceports, it's about education. It's about community. It's about a number of things that, as an architect, we think about all the time. So we think about cities, and we tend to take the cities that we live in for granted, that this is how a city functions. But, actually, the way that we are organizing cities if we use spaceports and we use air mobility as the kind of driver is very different from the automobile which, you know -- you know American cities. And European cities are essentially from the horse and car to the automobile. The diagram for those cities and the way lives are organized is very similar. With spaceports with EV too and with changes in technology and lifework balance, I think that is a really interesting time for us to think about how spaceports can influence -- how space as a network, global network can start to shape different types of communities. I think that's really interesting and worth thinking about now.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm curious what kinds of things does someone need to see or experience before they're heading off into space? Like, what kind of experiences do you want to build in to make that journey more exciting, comforting? I'm not even sure if I'm asking the right question. But I'm just really curious about that experience that you're building.

>> Francis Walker: No. I think it's -- I think it's extremely significant. I think that, if I was to imagine 24 hours before launch Padawan [phonetic], you'll want your loved ones around you. But you'll also want to -- I think you're -- I think you're -- you'll have heightened senses about your home planet, you know, because that's kind of the context that we're thinking about this in. So we're doing some work with some clients where we're talking about that a lot. And we're talking about it across all the types of sensory experience. Connection to nature is the thing that comes back a lot. And it's a really interesting -- I wouldn't call it paradox, but it's a really interesting scenario where you're about to leave the planet. It's never sort of been more important to you, and you're open to it. So one example we did on a sort of a concept design that we're working on for a spaceport as, prelaunch, there's almost like a contemporary version of a forest clearing. And we kind of designed the residential spaces around this courtyard. And this courtyard was a forest, and in the center of the forest was a clearing. And it had a view up to the night sky, and that was all you could see. And what we -- what we really liked about that was it was sort of connecting us with a very, very sort of tribal past and a very sort of -- you know, going back a long way to the very origins of how we started to organize as a society and the idea of sharing stories and looking up to the skies and doing these things. It felt like a nice point of departure and a nice complement to the fact that you're essentially being strapped into a machine and fired up at ridiculous velocity up into the sky.

>> Maria Varmazis: When you put it that way!

>> Francis Walker: Yeah. You kind of went sideways a little bit, you know.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's so fascinating to hear you describing this because I -- for me, I've never been in a spaceport. And my only understanding, very basic as it is, of the function of spaceports aside from what I know through my job now is what I think of through my experience in airports, what I would imagine from what I've seen on TV of somebody slapping up a Welcome to Earth poster on a wall and going, like, what's the analog there for space? It's so fascinating to hear about sort of thinking about the broader human journey and taking that into -- building that into the spaceport. That is such a really cool concept. I am -- it's blowing my mind a little bit. You mentioned something about also the idea of community. I wanted to get back to that because that's not a word I've heard very often, but I'm totally fascinated that you mentioned it. Could you speak a little bit more on what you mean about that and maybe how that weaves into your ideas there.

>> Francis Walker: Yeah, yeah. Of course. And it's probably important for me to caveat by saying that I have friends and colleagues developing spaceports that are heavily involved in the regulatory side and the safety side and the risk issues, and rightly so. We need to -- we need to resolve those kinds of parameters before we can really push forward and establish. But the way that we are thinking about it as, if we can align the structure of education and the opportunities that exist in space and create a platform for the coming generation to have a path to space, I'm a big believer in not knowing what the answer is. But I'm smart enough to know that smarter people will come along if we give them the platform and the opportunity to develop some of these things. Where I get really interested is we tend to have siloed expertise in different areas. And I see space as a place where people with different lenses on the same challenge can cross-pollinate and can come together. And you have physicists with artists with people that are experts in agriculture with people that know robotics. And I think the big jump, the big leap forward comes from getting those people to fork [phonetic] to look the same way. You know, if you look at -- where we send our talent tends to be where we make big jumps, right. So everyone went Silicon Valley in the '50s and '60s, and look where we are now. And they went to Wall Street in the '80s. And, you know. So, you know, it's up to us where we -- those paths that we build. And I just find it really interesting. And I learn a lot from my children about where their interests lie. I have three daughters, and I want them to have interesting careers. And they can go do what they want. But one thing that I think is significant for them as -- is there an interesting way to help. Is there an interesting way to get involved in some of these innovations, in some of these developments that, you know, like I say, I don't know what those developments are going to be. I just know that if we can get good people to face in that direction, that is going to be really interesting what they can come up with. And that's what architects kind of do. We provide spaces for people's lives to unfold. And so it's sort of incumbent on us to provide that backdrop for cool stuff to happen, right.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back after this quick break.

[ Music ]

Again, a lot of my discussions with people about a lot of the space basics tend to be very functional. And I love hearing your vision of -- again, I'm going to use the word spaceport, but I know that's not necessarily the most descriptive term here but as a place not just where things, you know, transit is happening but as a place where maybe folks can gather and do things related to the challenges related to space or humanity, space journeys. And that's a fascinating vision to me. And it's kind of a romantic vision almost. But it is really beautiful too.

>> Francis Walker: It is. And it's sort of transposed from what we learn from aviation and from big airport projects because all the big successful airports at a certain point in time have become victims of the success. They've grown bigger than anyone thought they would. And they have -- they have great challenges with expanding further or maintaining a good level of service for the passenger. And there's a number of challenges that come along because a lot of them, all of them, they didn't really think we'll get this big. We didn't really think it would go in this direction. We didn't really think that -- we didn't think big enough about -- about this thing because they were concerned with immediate needs. And I think that now's the time to have the conversation at least about spaceports. And parallel to the -- you know, the hard jobs of establishing the regulatory frameworks and the safety and pushing the technology and finding ways to make it more sustainable, which I think is if we [inaudible] flourish or perish because it has to -- you know, we have to tend to the planet while we explore the solar system. That goes without saying, right. That's just -- that's me paraphrasing Carl Sagan. So it makes a lot of sense to me to think about these as places. And when you think about them as places, then you start to think about them a little bit differently. We did a really cool piece thinking about spaceport over time. And sort of the narrative of the story, we build a lot of stories and hosts. And we have an in-house team or media lab that brings these stories to life. And the idea was that the spaceport in 2025 grows over time, and generations live and work. So it starts off with a young couple and their grandparents by the end of the story. And one of the things that we did that was -- that I thought was pretty cool was, you know, all the rockets and technology that are contemporary in '25 become the monuments and the statues in 2018. And so you start to create your own landmarks and your own language of -- like cities, right, cities have landmarks. They have statues. They have their monuments. And you sort of rely on them to give the city its character. And so the idea of it becoming the living museum was something that I think touches on the romantic aspects that you've picked up on.

>> Maria Varmazis: That reminds me of a very remote airport I went to in the Northern Marianas Islands on I think the island of Rota, tiny, tiny, tiny island. And they had nothing. They had cut down palm trees with these propellers propped up on them, and that was just sort of part of their history, these World War II era propellers from the planes. And it just happened on its own, but it was sort of like their monument row on this tiny little island. That just made me think of that. Yeah. I -- what a fascinating conversation this is. Was there anything about your work on spaceports or just maybe your philosophy on spaceport development in general that you wanted to address before we close?

>> Francis Walker: Well, what's sort of got me excited right now is the integration of a strategy for spaceports, airports. And vertiports. And not all spaceports will be launch sites. I think, to my mind, the value of them is in networks and that the networks are coordinated in a way that they provide part of the picture, or they provide part of the jigsaw puzzle. And things come together in one place, and maybe that's where the launch site is. So when we think -- when we talk about spaceports, it's the same as airports. You know, everyone thinks airports are the same. But, actually, they're all very different. And when you get under the skin of them operationally, they are extremely diverse facilities in terms of how they operate, what their priorities are, etc. And I think spaceports would go the same way. I think that you could imagine sort of microcities that were geared around space. And the reason I'm saying that could happen is, when you read what some economists say the space sector could be worth, you know, the one that catches my imagination is if we can mine an asteroid, right, if we can bring an asteroid back or if we can mine it in space, the geopolitics of that on Earth are quite staggering because the rare earth metals that are on these asteroids eclipse what we have on the planet. And those are the things that we need for technology advancements. So, if you take the Earth politics out of that, you create a very different scenario. And that leads me to the thought that it really needs people to communicate and coordinate and collaborate. And I do find that the space community and the little corner of it that I'm in is very collaborative, very open to ideas and fortunately transcends the politics of the whole thing.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for T-Minus Deep Space for August 5, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tré Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

[ Music ]

Similar posts

Stay in the loop on new releases. 

Subscribe below to receive information about new blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, and product information.