States

As Texas celebrates winning SpaceX spaceport, Florida regroups

On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry confirmed what had neen widely speculated for weeks, if not months: SpaceX would establish a commercial launch site on the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. The state is providing about $15 million in funds to support spaceport development, although the release notes that construction will involve “$85 million in capital investment,” presumably from SpaceX.

The announcement was the culmination of several years of efforts by local and state officials, including Perry, to lure SpaceX to establish the launch site there. The letter noted state officials first talked with SpaceX in the spring of 2011, and Perry had since met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and “provided letters of support” as SpaceX worked through launch site regulatory efforts with the FAA.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said in the release.

The decision is a defeat for Florida, who had hoped to keep SpaceX’s commercial launches by developing a commercial launch site at a site named Shiloh just north of the Kennedy Space Center. An environmental assessment of the site is underway, although many local residents expressed opposition to the site at public hearings early this year.

A day after Perry’s announcement, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) tried to put a positive spin on the situation. “I think you’re going to see a lot of commercial activity that is going to be there and on the Kennedy Space Center,” Nelson told Florida Today in an interview in the senator’s Orlando office. “So I think we have a robust future.”

Nelson also raised questions about the viability of the Texas site, noting that launches from there will have to pass through a narrow keyhole downrange, between Florida and Cuba, restricting the range of orbits those launches can meet. (Dogleg maneuvers can enable additional orbits, although at a cost in terms of performance.) “How many launches will be financially viable for them to do that from there?” he said. “I think that’s a story still to be told.”

58 comments to As Texas celebrates winning SpaceX spaceport, Florida regroups

  • Except for its southern location, Brownsville is a terrible location for a spaceport. The many down range Caribbean nations at risk of being bombarded by flaming rocket debris no doubt agree. Cape Canaveral was chosen long ago as a launch site with good reason.

    • Hiram

      Fortunately, SpaceX hasn’t produced a lot of “flaming debris”. Brownsville has a number of other advantages. The cost of living is VERY low compared to Orlando/the Cape and two and a half degrees of latitude are helpful. Actually, for ISS launches, the ground track out of Brownsville won’t endanger any Carribean nations at any time. Louisianians and Yucatanians, look out. Great view from Houston! Carribean nations are in more danger from Canaveral launches to ISS than from Brownsville.

    • common sense

      You must be mistaken with launches of Ares I…

    • Dogleg Trajectory

      They can do a mid-course dogleg maneuver and exit south of the Turks and Caicos or out the Old Bahama Channel if necessary, or they can briefly overfly the very thinnest section of Long Island in the Bahamas, lest than a mile in width, where there are nothing but a couple of shacks on some pothole farms. I know those people who farm those potholes personally and have discussed this extensively with them already. That’s why it’s called ‘dogleg park’. There is also a straight shot past the Cayman’s and out through the channel at Trinidad and Tobago for flights to inclined orbits (the ISS).

  • Before amightywind’s comment, I was just preparing to argue that, whether intentional or not, SpaceX location of their new launch site in one of the states with the greatest stake in “old space” might ammeliorate some of the opposition to “new space.” I see that I was wrong. Sigh.

    – Donald

    • SpaceX, like many rational companies, operates in Texas because of the low tax rate and regulatory environment. Can’t blame them for that. I don’t see that as ingratiating them to the rest of the Texas space community given their appalling behavior.

      • Amightywind: given their appalling behavior

        As opposed to the SLS, you mean like success? You mean like investing in new technologies like reusable first stages? You mean like bringing commercial launches back to the United States? I could stand a little more “appaling behavior” like that!

        As for the low taxes in Texas, a recent article in the Business Times argued that Texas is buying jobs, while California is creating them. California has created at least as many jobs as Texas (SpaceX being a prime example), and many of them are not subsidised by the state or the Feds, nor are they low-wage jobs, as many of those bought by Texas are. San Francisco, arguably the most expensive, heavily regulated, and highest taxed city in the nation, is also at least one of the most creative, with thousands of new high-growth companies, essentially zero unemployment, and vast new office towers being constructed every day. I think your ideology might be in need of a close examination and possibly a refresh.

        – Donald

        • Business Times argued that Texas is buying jobs

          Texas wisely buys because fleeing companies like Toyota sell. The economies of Austin, Houston, and Dallas are powerhouses.

          San Francisco, arguably the most expensive, heavily regulated, and highest taxed city in the nation,

          All true. It is an area of high growth, high margin businesses, highly competitive businesses which can afford not to be frugal. History has shown this will not always be the case. But how’s that working for Fresno or Stockton or even LA? California consists of a prosperous coastal elite and a withered and impoverished interior. The pond is shrinking. Not a good model for general prosperity. Don’t take it from me. Look at the population migration data. It ain’t pretty for Cali. Too bad too.

          I think your ideology might be in need of a close examination and possibly a refresh.

          My ideology is impeccable.

          • Almightwind: But how’s that working for Fresno or Stockton or even LA?

            I think LA is doing relatively well, but be that as it may, there is some truth to your analysis. However (and it is a big however), there are some other reasons for San Francisco’s success. In no particular order: we welcome immigrants from every culture and value diversity (it’s the American Way, after all); many young people today, especially the creative ones, do not want to live bland monocultures (Google has to run their Google Busses because their best employees refuse to live in Mountain View; it’s my understanding that few of Schwab’s employees are choosing to go with the company’s backoffice to Texas and those that do are unlikely to be the most creative); we never vote down education bonds and our inner city public secondary school system, for all its problems, outperforms most other inner city schools and is competative with those in the suburbs, and Lowell High School is considered one of the best public schools in the nation; we have great public transit at a time that many young people are choosing not to learn to drive and are migrating back into the inner cities (according to the latest census, some 20% of young people are not learning to drive and for the first time in some 70 years, more poor people live in the suburbs than the inner cities; you can read that your way as an elite, or you can read it my way that creative people would simply rather not live in a place like Stockton or Texas). San Francisco considers itself, and tries to be, a “high service” city, with admittedly high taxes (my property taxes are by far the largest check I write every year) but also very good public services (just to pick just one example, we have an expensively well-maintained, free public swimming pool in every neighborhood).

            In the wider world, Germany’s “mixed” economy is doing at least as well as the United States’ (and in many measures, they’re beating the pants off of us). In short, the real world does not clearly prove that low wage, low tax, low service “free market” economies always win over mixed economies.

            In short, there’s a place for the Stocktons and Texas’s of the world, but along with many of today’s youths, I certainly would not want to live in them.

            Your ideology is simplistic, at best.

            – Donald

            • Dick Eagleson

              Despite our seeing pretty nearly eye-to-eye on space matters, I’m going to have to call you out a bit here on your California-S.F. chauvinism. There is simply no rational basis on which to conclude that California is doing better, economically, than Texas or is likely to in the foreseeable future.

              Let’s start with population. Between 1900 and 1950, California’s population roughly tripled while that of Texas only did a bit better than double. California was running away from Texas, population-wise. Recently, it’s been the other way around. California’s population is still growing, but by only about 375,000 per year while Texas adds roughly 450,000 per year. Given that Texas is just a bit over 2/3 as populous as California, the different in percentage growth is even larger.

              Americans are voting, as always, with their feet. More of them are choosing to park their boots in Texas these days than to park their Birkenstocks in California. It’s been a couple decades since California added a new Congressional district. After the next census, we’ll likely lose one or two. That has never happened before.

              Then there’s the matter of employment, or its opposite.

              The national unemployment rate was, as of June 2014, 6.3%. Among states, Texas ranked 16th at 5.1%, over a full point better than the national rate. California ranked 44th at 7.4%, over a full point worse than the national rate. Incidentally, of the 15 states that did better than Texas in unemployment rate, most were western and Great Plains Red states with small populations. Only three were Blue states, Vermont, Hawaii and Minnesota, and Minnesota’s Blue credentials are looking a tad iffy these days.

              Of the four most populous states, Texas and California, as noted, led and trailed, respectively, at 16th and 44th with Florida ranking 29th with a barely better-than-national unemployment rate (6.2%) and New York 36th with a worse than national one (6.6%).

              Breaking things down to metropolitan statistical areas, the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps figures on 25 of these in Texas, of which 20 had unemployment rates as good or better than the national rate. One of the five that was worse than the national rate was Brownsville. So if Gov. Perry is “buying” jobs, he’s at least doing it where there is a genuine need.

              There are 26 BLS metro stat areas in California. Only eight of these have unemployment rates equal to or better than the national figure.

              There are 372 of these areas in the entire United States. Nine of the 10 worst unemployment rates on this list are for places in California’s Central Valley. All nine have unemployment rates over 10%. The worst-hit area on this list, El Centro, has an unemployment rate over 20%, one of only two BLS metro stat areas in the U.S. this badly off. The other is Yuma, AZ. There are no BLS metro stat areas in Texas with unemployment rates of 10% or more. California enjoys a near-monopoly on such places.

              Other relevant stats:

              Of the 100 BLS metro stat areas with the best unemployment rates, 11 are in Texas with Corpus Christi and the Sherman-Denison area just missing as part of a tie for 101st place. Austin and San Antonio are among large Texas cities on that top 100 list. The rest are medium to small cities in the West Texas fracking patch.

              For California, the number in the top 100 is two. Napa ranked 57th and S.F. ranked 89th. San Luis Obispo and Santa Rosa were with Corpus Christie and Sherman-Denison as part of a 7-way tie for 101st place. The two biggest metro areas in Texas, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, are part of a 14-way tie for 108th place with two smaller Texas areas, Tyler and Wichita Falls, also in that group. The Silicon Valley area of California is in 122nd place. San Diego is 181st. L.A. is 293rd.

              The lowest unemployment rate in California, 4.7%, is in Napa County north of San Francisco. S.F., itself, has the second-best unemployment rate in California, 5.2%, over a full point better than the national rate and over two full points better than the California rate of 7.4%. If you think things are peachy in California, it’s because you are living in the only part of the state where that is true.

              The other six California locales with better-than-national unemployment rates are relatively small college towns like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, the Sunnyvale area (Silicon Valley), Oxnard and Santa Rosa. The last of these is, like Napa, at least partly a “bedroom” area for people actually employed in S.F.

              The only large California metro area, besides S.F., with an unemployment rate better than the national rate is San Diego. Even there, the margin is just two-10ths of a point.

              Los Angeles, far from “doing well,” has a rate that matches the California average of 7.4%. This is, relatively speaking, a recent improvement as the L.A. rate was lagging both the national and California state rates for a long time. But it ain’t good. I know. I live in L.A.

              Now, on to a few other points:

              we welcome immigrants from every culture and value diversity

              As Dana Carvey used to say, “Well, aren’t we special! Seriously, how is L.A. not at least as diverse as S.F.? What S.F. seems to value more than diversity is talent. A lot of said talent in recent decades has come courtesy of the H1-B visa program of which the Bay and Silicon Valley areas are lopsidedly disproportionate beneficiaries. the H1-B program is, in essence, a modern version of indentured servitude in which oh-so-politically-correct mostly white entrepreneurs with degrees from all the right schools get to exploit the cream of the foreign dusky masses without having to actually leave the U.S. or expose themselves to exotic tropical diseases as used to be necessary. How progressive!

              many young people today, especially the creative ones, do not want to live bland monocultures

              Except the pretentious monoculture of S.F. hipsterdom, apparently. When you define “diversity” strictly in skin color terms, you tend to miss the ways in which your highly melanin-variable social circle tends to be just like you in nearly every other important respect, including the tendency toward dubiously appropriate self-congratulation and self-regard. I worked for Levi Strauss in S.F. and overseas for awhile when I was about the age I suspect you are now. I speak from personal experience.

              it’s my understanding that few of Schwab’s employees are choosing to go with the company’s backoffice to Texas and those that do are unlikely to be the most creative

              Could be true for all I know, though my experience of backoffices is that creativity isn’t very high on the list of qualities employers are usually looking for. But Schwab’s move to Texas does point up the hollowing out of S.F. Your city has virtually no middle class left. Increasingly, there are just the well-to-do and the poor – California having about an eighth of the national population but at least a third of its welfare clients.

              The great mushy American middle is getting out of Dodge (S.F.) as fast as they can pack their U-Hauls. “Reverse Okies” I call them. Nor is S.F. alone in this. Given that L.A. is much larger, we probably have more such departures in absolute terms than you do.

              These economic refugees range from RIFed middle management down to the blue collar-ish white collar types like the cubicle drones at Schwab. Actual blue collar types, who work on factory floors or in warehouses, are even scarcer on the ground in S.F. The progressive elite has little or no need for them and doesn’t want them around.

              we have great public transit at a time that many young people are choosing not to learn to drive and are migrating back into the inner cities (according to the latest census, some 20% of young people are not learning to drive

              Hoo boy, where to start? How about with my daughter? She didn’t get a driver’s license until after she was 25. Why? Because she had become a happy, subway-riding urban hipster? Not exactly. It was because, up until recently, she was long-term unemployed and living with my wife and me. She couldn’t afford to drive. She couldn’t even afford the significant increase in insurance rates that would have been required to put her on our policy. She still lives with us and doesn’t yet own a car, but she has a license now and a job, though her wages wouldn’t cover living on her own or getting her own car – she uses one of our two aging beaters. She does pay for gas, insurance and repairs. Financial independence these days seems to be a process, not an event.

              Nearly all of your vaunted 20% are exactly like my daughter. If you are delusional enough to think this statistic prefigures some sort of progressive-led renaissance of urban smart set living, boy have you got another think coming! These people are getting wise to where Great Depression 2.0 came from and who decided, in the middle of it, to foist Obamacare mandates on them. Politically, I think a lot of Millenials are just waiting to gut Democrats like trout when they step into voting booths this Fall. YMMV.

              Now, about that “great public transit.” S.F. is tiny and hemmed in by geography. Public transit probably does work better there than most places. New Yorkers like to brag on their public transit too. Me? I’ve ridden BART and I’ve ridden the New York subways. I’m not impressed. I’ve also ridden the Washington Metro. Not impressed with that either.

              When I was much younger I rode street cars, buses and subways in Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Milan. Much closer to being impressive, especially given the alternative of trying to navigate a car through the chaotic narrow streets of a typical European city.

              The European systems are superior because they are much denser than American transit systems typically are. One was rarely more than 100 yards from some sort of transit stop in Europe. They’re a lot scarcer in the U.S., especially here in L.A. L.A., you’ll probably not be shocked to know, sprawls a bit. There’s very little light rail and subway. Even bus transit often involves walks of a quarter mile or more at each end.

              When one is young, one doesn’t mind walking in cities. Hell, in Europe, in my 20′s, I did it a lot just for sport. Only took the tram or the tube when I was tired or couldn’t afford the time needed to walk all the way to some distant place or when it rained or snowed.

              I’m no longer young. Walking a city block or more to get to a bus stop no longer appeals. Being a potential target of criminal dacoits going and coming is even less appealing. But being such a target is well-nigh mandatory for aging urbanites who can’t afford cars. Also true of many much younger, often “diverse” women who work as nannies, maids and such.

              Cars are great. Driverless cars are going to be even better. Progressives need to understand why 19th Century public transit was quickly supplanted, most places, by 20th Century private transit and why we’re not going back in the 21st Century.

              for the first time in some 70 years, more poor people live in the suburbs than the inner cities

              For the first time in 70 years we are suffering through a decade-long Great Depression. Your stat is not a consequence of poor people moving to suburbs. It’s a product of people already in suburbs losing their jobs and falling out of the middle class. I’m one of them. I’ve got plenty of company.

              you can read that your way as an elite, or you can read it my way that creative people would simply rather not live in a place like Stockton or Texas

              Right. I’ll share that with all my elite buddies down at the Wal-Mart and the Smart & Final the next time I’m rubbing elbows with the movers and shakers who hang out there. I’ll tell them you say, “Hi!”

              Given Stockton’s unemployment rate (10.5%), I wouldn’t want to live there either. Frying pan? Fire? Texas is a different story. I’d like to move but lack the means.

              Even so, Texas is not without charms to the left of wing and the “creative” of bent. Have you never heard of Austin? I’ve heard they think even more of themselves there than you do in S.F. They’ve got the urban hipster thing going, plus the Texas thing.

              In the wider world, Germany’s “mixed” economy is doing at least as well as the United States’ (and in many measures, they’re beating the pants off of us).

              The current German unemployment rate is 5.1%, more than a full point better than ours. But the only other country in Europe with an unemployment rate better than ours is Norway at 3.2% Some whole countries in Europe, including Spain (25.6%) and Greece (26.8%) have rates worse than El Centro’s (22%), the worst in California. Most of the rest are near or above 10% including France (10.4%). Compared to the U.S., most of Europe’s national economies are more “mixed” than ours or even Germany’s. The Germans stand out because they work harder than other Europeans. The Norwegians have a thriving oil industry – as does, oh yeah, Texas!

              In short, there’s a place for the Stocktons and Texas’s of the world, but along with many of today’s youths, I certainly would not want to live in them.

              Good thing it’s still a more or less free country so nobody can make you (“It was terrible I tell you! They beat me! They degraded me! They made me move to Texas!“).

              Your ideology is simplistic, at best.

              Yours, of course, is simply turgid to bursting with subtlety and nuance.

              I gather that you are young, work in the software industry and are doing pretty well. I hope it lasts for you. My own experience was that there were few people in software who lasted much beyond 35 unless they were management. Good luck to you.

        • Coastal Ron

          Donald F. Robertson said:

          As for the low taxes in Texas, a recent article in the Business Times argued that Texas is buying jobs, while California is creating them.

          And Governor Perry is raiding the future of Texas by taking money from education. And this has been happening for a long time, with Barbara Bush writing in an op-ed back in 2011:

          This month, The Houston Chronicle published an opinion piece by the former first lady titled “We Can’t Afford to Cut Education,” in which Mrs. Bush pointed out that students in Texas currently rank 47th in the nation in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores.

          They are eating their seed corn, which is why they have to buy jobs from other states.

  • Vladislaw

    Wouldn’t Brownsville be ideal for launching to Bigelow Aerospace’s LEO facility? They are not going to use the same orbit as the ISS.

  • Ed Minchau

    How far downrange does the Falcon go before first stage separation? Would a Brownsville launch mean first stage landing in Florida?

    • Malmesbury

      Not far – the concept is a lofted 1 stage trajectory. Lots of vertical, as it were.

      The real reason for Texas has been the persistent refusal to update the range at the Eastern Range. The fire not long ago was a symptom of a system that is incredibly ancient and inflexible. The people who keep it going are very hard working and clever, but human ingenuity can only do so much. A setup where people need to physically dismantle and rebuild the systems for monitoring launches of different vehicles??

      There have been plenty of proposals to implement (using off-the-shelf radars and other systems) a highly automated range setup. Almost certainly what will get installed at Brownsville.

      • Coastal Ron

        Malmesbury said:

        There have been plenty of proposals to implement (using off-the-shelf radars and other systems) a highly automated range setup. Almost certainly what will get installed at Brownsville.

        No doubt they will install some sort of radar, but from what I’ve read the plan for range safety is to have the vehicles monitor their location via GPS and self-terminate if they deviate. Apparently this is the way the Eastern Range wants to go to also, but as you point out they are resource limited in what they can do.

    • Hiram

      “How far downrange does the Falcon go before first stage separation?”

      ISS launch would not go over Florida at all. It could go over Louisiana, but first stage sep is 150 km downrange, and Louisiana is 500 km downrange from Brownsville.

  • Coastal Ron

    “Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said in the release.

    Well that and Texas doing what politicians of all stripes do – throw money at the company. In this case $20.3M.

    What that decision also does is make the Texas Senators in Congress less critical of SpaceX, since both Senators (Corrnyn & Cruz) would now be more likely to support the local jobs that SpaceX has brought to two different locales in Texas. And not to mention the attention Texas will get when SpaceX starts launching from Texas.

    Musk is using pure capitalism to change the conversation about SpaceX and show what NewSpace is capable of…

    • Hiram

      Well, Musk wants Texas mainly because of latitude. Apollo (and manned space flight in general) needed Texas mainly because of Congress, and JSC is running on tradition. But the fact that Musk gets powerful congressional leaders somewhat in his pocket doesn’t hurt any.

      • Neil

        Yes it’s mainly about location however with SpaceX you can never discount strategy as playing a part in their game plan. Great overall strategy, agility and focus are all adding up to what looks like becoming one of the U.S. great private enterprise success stories.
        Cheers.

  • Neil

    Nelson also raised questions about the viability of the Texas site, noting that launches from there will have to pass through a narrow keyhole downrange, between Florida and Cuba, restricting the range of orbits those launches can meet. (Dogleg maneuvers can enable additional orbits, although at a cost in terms of performance.) “How many launches will be financially viable for them to do that from there?” he said. “I think that’s a story still to be told.”

    Gotta love it. Nelson is now an expert on launch sites amongst other things.
    Cheers

    • Hiram

      I’m not sure I understand that comment about trajectories. Trajectories headed towards ISS sure don’t need to thread any such needles. Certainly not between Florida and Cuba. Is this for GEO orbits that he’s talking about? The dogleg you need to do for GEO orbits is sharper at Cape Canaveral than it is at Brownsville. Plane changes are never easy. Nelson has been told what to say about this, but it’s clear he doesn’t know what he’s saying.

  • Neil

    The old-school space advocates really really don’t get it do they? Trying to distill what SpaceX is doing down to a few soundbites like ‘story still to be told’ and ‘financially viable’.
    This to SpaceX, a company that is not only pushing the cost of launch down to a historical low but also:
    - vertically integrated design, manufacture and launch of new vehicles and spacecraft
    - pushing on with reusability
    - developing new engines
    - satisfying an international commercial launch market
    etc, etc.
    Cheers

  • Fred Willett

    Gwynne Shotwell COO at SpaceX has dropped hints about opening other launch sites in the future. The point is SpaceX are seeking revolutionary changes to the space launch industry and they are doing it through the application of Economics 101.
    In principle lower launch costs means increased demand for launch. Musk and Shotwell have both said they have seen increases in demand just from the existing lower prices of the Falcon 9. They are clearly planning for the day they can offer really low prices on reusable hardware.
    BTW Brownsville is ideal for GEO launches. And where do most commercial launches go?
    That’s right. You got it.

    • Neil

      Yes I think that SpaceX are just on the brink of getting their launch rates up so it’s possible that production may be the hold up now, launch sites not so much. Keeping them in synch’ is going to be an interesting exercise.

      Then next year I reckon they’ll have first stage reusability licked. That should solve their production holdups and so the emphasis will go to launch pads hence the move to Brownsville and 39A.

      If you add in DoD launches, my they’re going to be busy people.

      Cheers.

      • Vladislaw

        Neil wrote:
        “so it’s possible that production may be the hold up now,”

        From an article in Aviation Week:

        “”Within a year we need get it from what it is right now, which is about a rocket core every four weeks, to a rocket core every two weeks,” Musk says.

        By the end of 2015, says SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the company plans to ratchet up production to 40 cores per year.”

        They are in the process of doubling core production and Shotwell did say production was now the bottleneck.

        • Vadislaw: <They are in the process of doubling core production

          Which, Amightywind, they are doing entirely (at least so far) in California.

          – Donald

          • Vladislaw

            There was a hint form Musk that building rockets next to the new Brownsville site was a possiblity.

            • That would not surprise me, Vladislaw. It’s clear they want to diversify their geographic footprint, at least partially to make their flight rate. As long as their headquarters and / or a large part of their production stays in California, my wider point still stands.

              And, just for the record, I think there is plenty that SpaceX is doing wrong. Their public relations are often appalling (like shutting down the launch feed w/o telling anyone, keeping failures close to their vests for too long, etc.), and I also think they are far too quick to go to the courts.

              – Donald

              • Their public relations are often appalling (like shutting down the launch feed w/o telling anyone, keeping failures close to their vests for too long, etc.), and I also think they are far too quick to go to the courts.

                These are my observations as well but somehow you manage to disagree with me anyway.

              • Coastal Ron

                Donald F. Robertson said:

                Their public relations are often appalling…

                We all have enjoyed the amount of information that we’ve gotten from SpaceX, but I think sometimes we have artificial expectations about them. For instance, I think they provide far more insight and commentary about what they are doing than ULA, yet they tend to get lambasted when they fail to provide instant or constant updates.

                …and I also think they are far too quick to go to the courts.

                When you’re tying to address issues with the government, such as approval for monopolies or sole source contract awards, the courts are really the only (and best) form of adjudication and redress, not only for small companies but for large ones also. Every major government contractor has sued the government at some point – it’s SOP to resolve disputes.

              • Coastal Ron: I think they provide far more insight and commentary about what they are doing than ULA

                Excellent points all. However, SpaceX is (or at least was) much more under the microscope than ULA and has (had) less leeway for screwing up their message. All that’s changed, now, of course.

                As for the legal issues, I still think if they perform a lot of the legal issues will take care of themselves, though admittedly not all. For logistical reasons, they cannot now launch military missions without screwing their corporate and NASA customers even if they won some, so I still think they’d be much better off getting their launch rate up, and demonstrating comparable or better reliability at lower cost, and then worry about attracting the military. (The inability to sell mail order cars is a different matter, and I think they were correct to take self described “free market” states like, say, Texas, to task for that. Hmmm, I wonder if they’ll be able to sell mail order rockets built in Texas?)

                – Donald

              • Almightywind: These are my observations as well but somehow you manage to disagree with me anyway.

                I do not disagree with you on those observations. I do disagree with you about just about everything else you’ve written. SpaceX and OrbSciences and Sierra Nevada, et al, are the (exciting) future, and SLS is yet another (depressing) example of five-plus decades of failing to copy Apollo. “New space” has learned something; “old space” is still banging its collective head against the wall and hoping for a different outcome. Good luck in that. You’ll need it.

                – Donald

              • Coastal Ron

                Donald F. Robertson said:

                For logistical reasons, they cannot now launch military missions without screwing their corporate and NASA customers even if they won some…

                Why is that? They just launched two commercial payloads in record time from CCAFS, and are planning on launching another 22 days from the last.

                If they do win Air Force launch contracts, they will be at least two years out, and by that time the commercial-only Texas launch site should be up and running leaving LC-40 and Pad 39A for government launches.

                Unless you’re implying a design change that SpaceX will have to incorporate into every Falcon 9, but I’ve heard of none.

                …so I still think they’d be much better off getting their launch rate up, and demonstrating comparable or better reliability at lower cost, and then worry about attracting the military.

                While that may be a philosophy you would use, that is not the criteria the Air Force uses.

                As to cost, the Air Force would be fine with paying the same as they are for Atlas V and Delta IV if it meant more redundancy, so providing the same capability for far lower pricing is not a requirement for competition.

                Lastly, what you are suggesting is exactly what ULA (i.e. Boeing and Lockheed Martin) wish would happen because that locks the Air Force into ULA for that much longer. However if SpaceX was awarded a contract today it would not launch for at least 2 years, by which time the Air Force will have monitored something like 20 Falcon 9 launches – that is far more insight into potential reliability than the Air Force ever had into the EELV program, and as we’ve seen even Air Force oversight of the EELV program did not stop reliability issues from happening.

            • Dick Eagleson

              If Boca Chica is the place SpaceX decides to build pad complexes for its future Raptor-powered BFR and BFR Heavy, then it would certainly make sense to both build and static test them there too. A rocket core with an 8 to 10 meter diameter can’t be moved by either rail or road.

              The only alternative for long-distance moves is by water. The Boca Chica site is right on the water, but dredging a huge barge channel through the middle of a public beach would almost certainly be a non-starter.

              It would, therefore, make far more sense to build monster rockets and check them out in essentially the same place they are to be launched from. Transporter-erectors, needed anyway to haul the gigantic rockets from their horizontal assembly/payload integration facility to their launch pad would also serve to move them, earlier, from an on-site factory to the static test stand and thence to the assembly/payload integration facility.

              I think Elon’s BFR and BFRH are going to have to be assembled and checked out wherever they eventually wind up being launched. So if, say, two of SpaceX’s launch sites are to be set up to launch these behemoths, then there will be two BFR factories and two static test facilities as well – one at each launch site.

              Falcon 9 production will probably stay in Hawthorne at least thru the 2023 end of the sale-leaseback deal SpaceX just made for their HQ and factory complex there. SpaceX seems to have the logistics of moving Falcon 9 parts from Hawthorne to McGregor and thence back to Vandenberg or on to Canaveral – and soon to Brownsville as well – pretty well worked out.

              But, if Elon’s vision of a future in which dozens, then hundreds and, finally, thousands of rockets are launched per year comes to pass, then SpaceX is almost certainly going to need at least one more Falcon 9 factory at some point – even allowing for the impact of reusability. So Hawthorne could remain a Falcon 9 production facility long after 2023 comes and goes and it could have one or more siblings too.

              • Stephen C. Smith: [hypocricy] on both sides of the aisle

                I disagree, unless you argue that by embracing commercial space, a liberal Obama is being hypocritical. Democrats start out arguing for government intervention, so there is no hypocrisy in their advocating for government space missions. It is the (mostly) southern Republicans who so blithely talk free market, no government subsidies, government out of our lives, out of one side of their mouths while trying to raid CCiCap of its tiny purse to feed the SLS monster out of the other. That is unambiguously hypocritical.

                Dick Eagleson: SpaceX seems to have the logistics of moving Falcon 9 parts from Hawthorne to McGregor and thence back to Vandenberg or on to Canaveral – and soon to Brownsville as well – pretty well worked out.

                If it’s true that Elon’s Tesla has chosen Reno for the battery factory, it is almost certainly because of the easy rail links (from two companies) between there and the east side of the San Francisco Bay where their factory is located. They do seem to think out their logistics in advance.

                – Donald

              • Dick Eagleson

                The Tesla plant is highly automated so I don’t know what Elon’s headcount is there. I suspect the Reno location might have been chosen, at least in part, for the same reason a lot of California businesses moved warehouse operations to Nevada awhile back, a punitive California tax on inventories. I’m not sure the tax is still on the books, but I know of no companies that moved out having come back.

                Reno may also be highly automated, but the Nevada unemployment rate is even worse than California’s so Elon won’t have any trouble finding whatever labor he needs at bargain rates compared to California.

                Keep in mind, also, that Tesla is now a public company. Elon has statutory fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders. Building a big production facility in California instead of Nevada would probably be actionable as a material breach of such responsibility.

        • Neil

          Good to know. Thanks.
          Cheers

  • Malmesbury

    “but from what I’ve read the plan for range safety is to have the vehicles monitor their location via GPS and self-terminate if they deviate.”

    That is the end state that some would like – but you will need a radar for making sure the airspace is empty. Plus the issue of idiot checking the results from the guidance system.

    These days a radar that can do all of the above in a single unit is a catalogue item. A couple of those (for reliability)..

    The radar is only one part – the data links and the system to assemble the information for the range controllers is probably a bigger issue.

  • josh

    Lol, windy is getting desperate. That’s the best you got?:D

  • The blog article I wrote on the subject … rather proud of the title. :-)

    “Elon Has Left the Building”

    Re Nelson’s comment about northeast launches … He overlooks the MARS complex at Wallops. SpaceX doesn’t launch from there (yet) but Orbital does.

    First Nelson and now Marco Rubio are whistling through the graveyard … From this morning’s Florida Today:

    “Florida remains nation’s space hub, Rubio says”

    His comments about Orion inspiring the nation to spend $$$ on space again are comical.

    • Vladislaw

      His votes are sure a reflection on that commitment. He should have mentioned how many times he voted against fully funding commercial crew before he bragged about those flights returning to the ISS.

      • Yep, the hypocrisy can be jaw-dropping … but that’s pretty much throughout Congress on both sides of the aisle.

        • Stephen C. Smith: on both sides of the aisle

          I disagree, unless you argue that by embracing commercial space, a liberal Obama is being hypocritical. Democrats start out arguing for government intervention, so there is no hypocrisy in their advocating for government space missions. It is the (mostly) southern Republicans who so blithely talk free market, no government subsidies, government out of our lives, out of one side of their mouths while trying to move money from CCiCap to SLS out of the other. That is unambiguously hypocritical.

          – Donald

          • Oops, sorry everyone for the double post. It’s the result of a slow browser refresh.

          • Donald F. Robertston wrote:

            It is the (mostly) southern Republicans who so blithely talk free market, no government subsidies, government out of our lives, out of one side of their mouths while trying to move money from CCiCap to SLS out of the other. That is unambiguously hypocritical.

            Bill Nelson (D-FL) co-created the Space Launch System with Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). On the House side, Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have for years bashed commercial space. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had a track record to underfunding commercial space to divert money to the JWST and anything else related to Goddard.

            About the only politician who has consistently stood up for commercial crew is Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Bill Nelson has half-heartedly supported commercial crew as part of grand compromise to assure everyone gets a piece of the pork pie.

            • Dick Eagleson

              Yep, that pretty well sums it up. Congressional malpractice on space policy is splendidly bi-partisan.

              • RockyMtnSpace

                In one of those rare occasions that the stars align, I would have to say I agree with you on this point.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Good. Perhaps we will find other points of common accord down the road. In the meantime, I’ll take our common view that, when it comes to space, Congress is mostly a waste of it as encouragement.

  • Fred Willett

    A major hassle for SpaceX during the recent Asiasat-8 launch was getting security clearances for all it’s Chinese guests who’d turned up to see their satellite launch. That’s one of the problems of launching from an air force base.
    It’s nothing to do with ITAR. It’s to do with getting a pile of executives into a hospitality suite in the launch complex where they can be wined and dined then let ‘em walk out onto the buildings balcony where they can watch their satellite lift into the sky.
    That and not having to wait on Atlas and Delta are the main attractions of Brownsville.

  • Egad

    <i It’s to do with getting a pile of executives into a hospitality suite in the launch complex where they can be wined and dined then let ‘em walk out onto the buildings balcony where they can watch their satellite lift into the sky.

    As it happens, a number of the existing high-rise buildings on South Padre Island have a great view of the Boca Chica site. I expect that their owners will profit handsomely when SpaceX starts launching from there. Also that future construction on SPI and in the general vicinity (including on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande) will be done with that in mind.

  • Brian Swiderski

    I’d like to read something eventually about the long-term prospects for SpaceX’s Vandenberg site – whether they may expand it, or create new commercial pads in the area. Being on the West Coast, I know it’s only for polar luanches, but how big is the market for those? Could they expand? What places on the Cali Coast could also serve that market? The launch market future does not only belong to the Gulf and Atlantic Coast.

    • Dick Eagleson

      There seem to be a lot of smallsat- and cubesat-based Earth imaging companies popping up lately who intend to field large constellations. At least some of these birds would benefit from being in polar, high inclination and/or lop-sided (Molniya) orbits. SpaceX has proven abiliities in the constellation and secondary payload deployment areas. Their Vandenberg pad could be very useful for addressing these types of requirements. Of course outfits like Firefly might want a V’berg presence at some point too. Probably not Rocket Labs though. They seem to be pretty well fixed on Grand Mercury Island off New Zealand.

  • Egad

    I know it’s only for polar luanches, but how big is the market for those?

    Minor correction, but it’s also used for Molniya and highly retrograde orbits. Not many of those, just the occasional NRO mission, so your question still applies.

    • Egad: Molniya

      For the record, I think SiriusXM was very unwise to give up on that orbit. It gave them better, more direct coverage, especially of Canada which is one of their major markets. I expect (and hope) that a future generation of satellites will return there. [Truth in advertising: I am a customer (listening to the BBC through their radio right now) and I own a large amount of Sirius stock.]

      – Donald

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