Tag Archives: spaceport

Russia’s troubled new spaceport

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of the many problems I have posted here on Behind the Black over the past three years, describing the corruption, cost overruns, and delays that have dominated the construction of Russia’s Vostochny spaceport.

I think this excerpt encapsulates the project’s basic problem:

Andrei Ionin of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, who helped draw up the original plans for Vostochny, said the idea was for the facility to boost the economy of the depressed Far East region. “It should have become an innovation cluster … with a smart city to attract bright young specialists,” Ionin said. Instead, the accompanying “innovation hub” was built near Moscow, and according to Oberg, only a skeleton crew is posted to Svobodny, the town that serves the spaceport.

“The original idea was botched,” Ionin said. He added that the project now has “no meaning” and is “like a fifth wheel in the Russian space program.”

The goal was not to improve efficiency or save costs, but to fulfill the idealistic hopes of a central planner whose plans were essentially very much divorced from reality. Meanwhile, the corruption that permeates all of Russian’s big industries honed in on this project as a great way to skim off a lot of cash for their personal bank accounts.

According to an expose by RBC published in July 2015, the original cost of the facility was supposed to be just $1.9 billion in today’s prices. Already, though, the cost of building the first of two launch pads has exceeded $2.4 billion, according data on dozens of state contracts compiled by RBC. Officials did not release an official budget for the spaceport before construction began in 2011.

Russian anti-graft activists allege that much of this overspend can be attributed to corruption. They say that, like many other Russian mega-projects, it has become a gravy train for well-connected embezzlers. “There are a lot of corruption violations,” said Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the grassroots non-governmental organization the Anti-Corruption Fund. Sobol, who published an exposé on cost overruns at Vostochny last year, added: “The construction is overpriced by billions of rubles.”

Russian prosecutors say that least $165 million was embezzled during the construction process and several contractors have been charged. “I doubt the full extent [of the embezzlement] has been publicized,” said veteran American journalist and historian James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program.

It will be especially revealing to compare Vostochny’s cost and development time with the spaceport that SpaceX is privately building in Texas. Which do you think will cost less and be fully operational first? I think I know.

SpaceX lobbies Texas government for spaceport backing

The competition heats up: In testimony today before the Texas legislature, a SpaceX official called for more government funding to support the company’s spaceport construction in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas.

At a recent joint legislative committee hearing held at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, Caryn Schenewerk, senior counsel and director of governmental affairs for SpaceX, pointed out that zero dollars were appropriated to the Texas Spaceport Trust Fund during last year’s legislative session. In contrast, Schenewerk said, Florida commits $20 million a year to its spaceport infrastructure fund.

“One of the things I want to highlight for you is that unfortunately, the spaceport trust fund was not funded in the 84th Legislature and we will certainly be advocating for it to be considered by the 85th and for it to be part of the budget in the 85th Legislature,” Schenewerk testified. “By contrast, Florida consistently funds its space infrastructure fund to a tune of $20 million a year. Those infrastructure matching grants go to exactly the kind of activities that we are undertaking at Boca Chica. They are public-private partnerships for investing specifically in what is so costly an undertaking, the infrastructure.”

Obviously, SpaceX’s spaceport is going to require an increased financial commitment by the state government to build and maintain the increased infrastructure that such large operations require. At the same time, SpaceX doesn’t need a handout. They shouldn’t expect the taxpayers to pay for their private spaceport.

The article does provide some updated information about the spaceport’s construction status. It looks like they are aiming for a 2018 launch date.

United Kingdom cancels spaceport competition

The competition heats up: The United Kingdom has cancelled its spaceport competition to chose one spaceport and instead has announced it will allow any one of the competing locations to operate if they can want and can meet some licensing requirements.

In other words, instead of the government dictating one location as the nation’s spaceport, it will allow different locations to compete for the space launch business.

The link has few details, though a closer look at subject of the British space effort can be found here.

Prep work for SpaceX’s Texas spaceport continues

The competition heats up: Though the first launch there is likely delayed until 2018, SpaceX has begun the preliminary foundation work to begin constructing its private spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.

They are hauling in a gigantic amount of dirt to stabilize the ground before work on the launchpads themselves begins.

Russia completes investigation into Vostochny embezzlement

The investigation into the corruption during the construction of Russia’s new spaceport Vostochny has been completed, with four Russians to be charged.

It also appears a fifth is on the lam and “has been put on the international wanted list.”

Construction at SpaceX’s new spaceport about to begin

The competition heats up: SpaceX has begun prepping the construction sites at its private spaceport in Brownsville, Texas.

The county has begun work on a road to where the spaceport command center will be, and SpaceX has established its construction headquarters in a double-wide trailer there. It is expected that actual construction of the command center will begin in August, with the launchpad construction to follow.

The expected cost for building the entire spaceport: $100 million. Compare that to the billions the Russians are spending for Vostochny, or the billions that NASA spends on comparable facilities.

Unpaid Russian workers at Vostochny go on hunger strike

Because they haven’t been paid in months, 26 workers at Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny have started a hunger strike.

This sure indicates that Russia isn’t going to get this spaceport ready for its first launch this year. And even if that launch does go off as planned, it does indicate some deeper problems that are going to haunt Russia’s space efforts in future years.

Russian government takes over Vostochny construction

The Russian government has once again increased its supervision of the construction of the Vostochny spaceport, now 120 days behind schedule.

They want to launch the first rocket from the spaceport by December of this year. The story also describes how contractors have been ordered, by Russia’s deputy prime minister himself, to stop leaving delicate new equipment in unprotected environments, as the equipment has been delivered before the buildings they are supposed be stored in have been finished.

Where the equipment will be put is not said. The boss has ordered it, however, so it better happen!

A photo tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Yesterday, as part of my visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to give a space history lecture to the local section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, I was given a short tour of these west coast launch facilities. While Kennedy is used for launches that circle the equator, Vandenberg, with its southern-facing coast, launches rockets that head south over the ocean for a polar orbit.

We only had time to go inside one launchpad, where unfortunately I was not permitted to take pictures. However, the images I did get will give you a reasonable sense of the layout for this spaceport, which is increasingly becoming a spaceport for private launch companies like ULA and SpaceX. Though the bulk of business for both companies here might be military and government payloads, the future is still going to include a lot of private payloads. The images also help to highlight the differences between these two companies, as well as some past history, as one of these launchpads was once intended for the space shuttle, though never used for that purpose.
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A photo tour of Vostochny

The Siberian Times has posted a very interesting photo tour of Russia’s new spaceport, Vostochny, presently under construction.

The article is very much a propaganda piece pushed by the Russian government (some photos were actually taken by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin himself), but it still gives you a sense of the scale and size of the project.

It is quite instructive to compare how the Russians do things, with a giant public works project costing $5 billion and taking more than a decade to build, with how the Americans do things, with a small privately-built space port being constructed by SpaceX in Brownsville for mere millions and in only a few years.

Britain narrows its competition for spaceport

The competition heats up: The British government has down-selected its choices for a future spaceport in Great Britain to six airports, two of which have already said they are not interested in taking on the job.

The remaining four sites include two in Scotland, and one each in Wales and southwestern England. If I had to choose just based on orbital mechanics, the English site would win, as it is farther south thereby capable of putting more payload in orbit for the same fuel. However, politics and pork will certainly be a factor in any final decision, as this spaceport location is being decided not by private companies but by the British government.

The Russian spaceport construction still behind schedule

In a detailed update on the status of Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport, russianspaceweb reports that the construction continues to be behind schedule.

Whether they can meet the government imposed deadline of first Soyuz rocket launch by the end of 2015 seems very doubtful. More significant is this interesting quote:

In the meantime, various sensitive systems, which arrived to Vostochny for installation into unfinished facilities, were rusting inside their containers along railway sidings.

Obviously, without enough qualified personnel at the remote construction site, Spetsstroi had little choice but to focus on facilities with the highest profile for visiting Moscow officials. Moreover, the work had to be done in a great haste, increasing the chances for mistakes and leading to a low quality of construction.

Boy, does that sound like the Soviet Union all over again. It also reminds me of how most government agencies operate in the U.S.

Ex-construction boss at Vostochny arrested

The man formerly in charge of construction at Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny has been arrested and charged with stealing $43 million dollars from the project.

The corruption might be true, as this kind of thing is culturally typical for the centralized government-run operations that are generally favored in Russia. It is also possible that Putin’s government wanted a scapegoat to blame for the construction delays and cost overruns in building Vostochny.

Either way, Putin gets what he wants. This prosecution will make it very clear to everyone involved in building Vostochny that the government wants it built fast and without further theft, and it is watching what people do there very closely.

SpaceX breaks ground on new spaceport

The competition heats up: At a ceremonial ground-breaking today in Brownsville, Texas, SpaceX officially began construction on the company’s own private spaceport for launching commercial satellites.

I will have more to say about this tomorrow. Regardless, this is a big deal, a private company building its own private spaceport.

SpaceX strikes deal with Texas to build spaceport

The competition heats up: Texas today announced an agreement with SpaceX, finalizing the company’s plans to build the world’s first commercial spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.

More here. The deal remains contingent on SpaceX getting all required permits from the federal government, but I doubt that will be a problem.

Russia to conduct its very first cosmonaut rescue drills at sea

The Eastern division of the Russian Air Force, Pacific fleet, and space agency Roscosmos will hold joint exercises the first week in August to practice for the first time ever the water rescue of Russian cosmonauts and a Soyuz capsule.

It is obvious these exercises are in conjunction with the construction of the Vostochny spaceport in Eastern Russia. Any aborted manned launch from this site will end up landing in the Pacific, not on land as has happened twice from Baikonur. And since the Russians have never had a manned capsule splashdown in the ocean, they better practice this stuff now.

Great Britain’s proposed suborbital spaceport locations

The competition heats up: More information was released today describing Great Britain’s suggested spaceport locations.

These spaceports are specifically aimed at the suborbital space tourism market, for American companies like Virgin Galactic or XCOR, or for the developing British company Skylon.

It is interesting that 6 of 8 are located in Scotland, which might very well not be part of the United Kingdom after a vote on separation this fall.

A spaceport for Great Britain?

The competition heats up: The government of the United Kingdom today outlined its intention to build its first spaceport by 2018.

The announcement listed eight potential sites, six of which were in Scotland, which is presently threatening to break away from the United Kingdom. This announcement I suspect is less a call for British space exploration and instead a political effort to encourage Scotland to remain in the UK.

The proposed SpaceX spaceport in Brownsville, Texas, has passed its final federal environmental review.

The proposed SpaceX spaceport in Brownsville, Texas, has passed its final federal environmental review.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which had raised concerns about possible impact on habitat for some endangered species, ultimately concluded that “the project is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed or proposed to be listed species nor adversely modify piping plover critical habitat.”

But wildlife officials don’t expect the project to be harmless: Two individual cats, either from the endangered ocelot or jaguarondi species, could be lost as a result of the project in spite of efforts to avoid just that with measures such as posting warning signs along the road leading to the launch site. And federal wildlife officials also anticipate that more than 7 miles of beachfront used by nesting sea turtles could be disturbed by security patrols, though driving is already permitted on the beach.

I think every American should read these two paragraphs to gain an understanding of how ridiculous these environmental regulations sometimes are. This report appears to be junk and an enormous waste of effort and time.

The bottom line is to consider what has happened in Florida. The government established a wildlife preserve surrounding the Kennedy Space Center and the wildlife has been flourishing there for more than a half century. Because a launchpad is used so infrequently (12 times a year is what SpaceX proposes for Brownsville), it inflicts very little harm on the environment.

SpaceX continues to acquire land in Texas for its planned spaceport in Brownsville.

The competition heats up: SpaceX continues to acquire land in Texas for its planned spaceport in Brownsville.

Elon Musk’s Dogleg Park LLC picked up an additional five lots in late April, bringing the total number of lots it has acquired in Cameron County to 95. The total land area that SpaceX now owns is roughly 38 acres of land, public records show. This is in addition to 56.5 acres that SpaceX has under lease at the site of what would be the world’s first private and commercial vertical launch site.

Compared to the acquisitions made by the federal government when it established its space centers in Florida and Wallops Island, these purchases are small. Nonetheless, they are likely sufficient for what the company plans to do.

At the end of a press conference Elon Musk lets slip the news that SpaceX has chosen Brownsville, Texas as the location of its commercial spaceport.

At the end of a press conference Elon Musk lets slip the news that SpaceX has chosen Brownsville, Texas as the location of its commercial spaceport.

They still have to get some FAA and environmental approvals, but expect to be launching from Texas in “a couple of years.”

According to an audit, the former chief financial officer of the Mojave Air and Space Port provided 24 straight months of inaccurate accounting reports.

According to an audit, the former chief financial officer of the Mojave Air and Space Port provided 24 straight months of inaccurate accounting reports.

That officer also resigned abruptly the morning this audit began, and had “cleared out her apartment” just beforehand. Still, there is no hint yet of any theft or loss of funds, only incompetence.

The Chief Financial Officer of the spaceport there suddenly resigned without explanation, just as a financial audit was starting.

Trouble at Mojave? The Chief Financial Officer of the spaceport there suddenly resigned without explanation, just as a financial audit was starting.

The audit is still on-going, but it appears that the reports the CFO had submitted to the spaceport were at a minimum “inaccurate.”

The purchase of land by SpaceX in the Brownsville, Texas area reveals the name the company is considering giving is spaceport there.

The purchase of land by SpaceX in the Brownsville, Texas area might have revealed the name the company is considering giving to its spaceport there.

It appears they have combined the various plots of land that they have purchased and named that development “Mars Crossing.”

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