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The knives aimed at SpaceX are getting sharpened

Starship must be banned!
Banning Starship: The new goal of our leftist masters.

Two stories today mark what appears to be a growing political campaign focused on squelching by any means possible the continued unparalleled success of the company SpaceX. And the simultaneous publication of both stories on the same day also suggests that this campaign is deliberately timed to force the FAA to shut down SpaceX at Boca Chica.

First we have a story at aimed at SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, making it the big villain in the growing threat of satellite collisions.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellites alone are involved in about 1,600 close encounters between two spacecraft every week, that’s about 50 % of all such incidents, according to Hugh Lewis, the head of the Astronautics Research Group at the University of Southampton, U.K. These encounters include situations when two spacecraft pass within a distance of 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) from each other.

Lewis, Europe’s leading expert on space debris, makes regular estimates of the situation in orbit based on data from the Socrates (Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space ) database. This tool, managed by Celestrack, provides information about satellite orbits and models their trajectories into the future to assess collision risk.

Though his data appears accurate and the growing risk of collisions is real, it appears from the story that Lewis, one of only two experts interviewed, has a strong hostility to SpaceX. He doesn’t like the fact that SpaceX is so successful in such a short time, and appears to want something done to control it.

The article also nonchalantly sloughs off one very significant fact: Very few satellite collisions have actually occurred. While the risk is certainly going to increase, that increase is not going to be fueled just by SpaceX. At least four large constellations are presently in the works, all comparable to Starlink in some manner. To focus on SpaceX in particular makes this article appear like a hatchet job.

Then we have a news story from CBS and its very partisan and leftist news show, Sixty Minutes+, providing a loud soapbox for the very small number of anti-development environmentalists fighting to block SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica, Texas.

These environmentalists claim that building a rocket facility like Starbase right next to a wildlife preserve will do great harm to that wildlife. Their campaign, aided eagerly by CBS and other leftist news sources as well as a local Democrat DA, is aimed at the FAA, which is right now completing a new environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica permit. The goal is to get the FAA to deny that permit, effectively shutting down SpaceX’s entire Starship development program.

What these environmentalists as well as the incompetent reporters that tout their agenda never mention is the fact that the spaceport at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida actually created a very successful wildlife refuge. Not only did it halt development in a region that certainly would have gotten built up had the launch facility not existed, its existence for almost three-quarters of a century has clearly proven that rocket launches do no harm to wildlife. That such news stories and these nature activists never mention this important detail should discredit them entirely.

Unfortunately, that’s not how politics works in today’s America. The goal is not to determine the best policy, but to exert power and control. It increasingly appears the swamp of petty dictators in government circles who love telling everyone else what to do have decided that SpaceX must be stopped, by any means necessary.

Whether they succeed or not will likely depend on the response of the general public. Its track record for the past half century is to either buy into these campaigns, or to simply pay no attention as the power-hungry move in and take over.

We are about to find out if the public will respond differently should the FAA act to block SpaceX. And that decision must happen in only a few short weeks, as the FAA must release the new environment assessment and issue its permit before SpaceX can attempt that first orbital flight test of Starship, something that Elon Musk says is just about ready to happen.

That decision, and the public’s response to it should it go against SpaceX, will tell us a great deal about the future of America.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Kyle

    Its like Atlas Shrugged

  • John

    “Whether they succeed or not will likely depend on the response of the general public”.

    I’m not seeing the state respond to anything the general public wants, up to and including national elections.

    If SpaceX wants to succeed, it needs a few party members on its board.

  • Daniel Billings

    Simple answer is for them to move Starship out of the US. This country has made the decision its going to be nothing but an authoritarian hell hole. Nothing good can prosper in that environment and this project may be our last hope to have a free human civilization somewhere in the future.

  • Jim Davis

    …has a strong hostility to SpaceX. He doesn’t like the fact that SpaceX is so successful in such a short time…

    Bob, comments like these undermine your credibility. You’re just making this up. I’m sure you probably believe the statements above but your personal convictions are not facts.

  • Jim Davis: This is my assessment in reading Lewis’ own comments in the article. Others can conclude otherwise.

    My ability to detect dishonesty and lying is very good. Though I certainly can and have been wrong, I am quite willing to rank the long term accuracy of my conclusions against anyone else.

  • Daniel Billings: People keep suggesting that SpaceX should simply leave the U.S., when that option is simply not possible, for two very simple reasons:

    1. Musk would have to move all operations out of the U.S., including all his employees. That can’t happen, nor can he replace either entirely outside of the U.S.

    2. An attempt by Musk to import this missile-related technology to foreign soil would very quickly get Musk in trouble with the law. He would be violating it.

    There is a third reason he shouldn’t consider running. There is no place to run to. If a free American is no longer free to follow his or her dreams in America, he or she won’t have that freedom anywhere else.

    The time has come to stand and fight, not run. I beg my readers to stop advocating running.

  • Mark

    I made a similar comment about two months ago but I’ll post it again. I believe there is a possibility that charitable giving by Bezos may have had an influence on the environmental organizations that are hassling SpaceX.

    Last year Jeff Bezos gave $791 million to 16 environmental organizations, and he plans to give billions more. Do any of those 16 organizations have ties with the Save RGV organization that is targeting SpaceX?

    CBS News reported on Aug 17 that “A local advocacy group, Save Rio Grande Valley (Save RGV), alerted the district attorney about the alleged breach of SpaceX’s permit. The district attorney then wrote to SpaceX, saying, “If SpaceX has indeed exceeded the allotted hours, then there is no longer a legal authorization to obstruct State Highway 4.””.

    I looked at the website of Save RGV. It states that it has ‘partnerships (and of course friendships) with the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Not Here Not Anywhere…”.

    So what was going on behind the scenes in these partnerships between environmental groups? Inquiring minds would like to know.

  • Jay

    You are correct. What Musk is dealing with is similar to three of the characters – either Wyatt, Galt, or Taggart. Bob is right, Musk cannot leave the U.S. and pull a “Going Galt” with that technology due to ITAR.

    I remember your response to the article a couple months ago on which environmental groups benefited from Bezos’ $12 billion sale of Amazon stock and one of them was the Sierra Nevada Club. I thought that “SaveRGV” membership was just a single protestor who taught at the local community college.

  • Mark

    Sierra Club has a chapter in Texas named ‘Lower Rio Grande Valley Group’.
    They have an entire webpage devoted to ‘SpaceX Boca Chica Factsheet & Talking Points’. So it looks like they have put some serious resources behind this effort.

  • We’re going to have to shoot our way off this planet, aren’t we?

  • Jim Davis

    My ability to detect dishonesty and lying is very good. Though I certainly can and have been wrong, I am quite willing to rank the long term accuracy of my conclusions against anyone else.

    That’s interesting, Bob. Is your latest book, Conscious Choice, based on careful research or your uncanny ability to detect dishonesty and lying?

  • Jim Davis: My book is based on careful research. The analysis I do here at BtB is often off the cuff, and I admit it openly. I also admit quite repeatedly that I can be wrong.

    However, I also find that my off the cuff analysis is far more often right and catches things most others miss. Consider as just one example my guess three-plus years ago that something was wrong with the BE-4 engine at Blue Origin, and that the seeming halt in its testing as well as the slowdown in New Shepard flights, suggested something amiss. That was a pure guess, but it was based on a reasoned look at the available facts. And it turned out to be entirely correct.

    Take what I write, or leave it. I never said these are facts. I made it very clear this was my interpretation.

  • FlaStorm32

    Regarding SpaceX and Musk leaving the US: with the investment he would be making and the jobs he would be creating, many countries would let him write his own rules. He could practically OWN some places. The biggest problem would be getting the quality of people he needs. It would certainly set them back a few years.

  • Sayomara

    Bob, do you know if this has anything to do with the face Spacex hasn’t launched anything in the last 6 week or so?

  • Sayomara: I think yes, approval of the FAA environmental assessment is now the biggest obstacle for SpaceX to move forward. The company had a number of engineering tasks they needed to do to prep for that orbital test flight, many of which are still on-going, but in the end it is the government that I think is slowing things down the most right now.

    Which makes the timing of these “news” stories most suspicious.

  • Richard M

    Another small blow at SpaceX today, as NASA agreed to a voluntary stay order on all HLS-related work in exchange for an expedited hearing on Blue Origin’s suit in federal court in mid-October.

    This won’t slow SpaceX down much, since their focus is almost all on just getting to orbit (and back) right now. But it’s not a helpful development. Another small victory for Old Space lawfare.

  • Mark

    Follow these connections for some Space Industry historical irony:

    The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gives millions to the Sierra Club.

    All of the wealth of that foundation was generated from HP.

    HP was an important contractor for NASA space-flight programs..

    So it’s possible some of the funding that Sierra Club is using to hamper the progress of SpaceX was originally derived from American taxpayers from the 1960s and 1970s.

    Side note for Apollo history buffs – here is a quote describing HP’s impact on
    Apollo 11:: “As you follow the progress of Apollo 11 on its historic flight to the moon, you can be proud of the fact that HPA has helped make it possible. Our Hot Carriers, PIN, Step Recovery Diodes and a PIN switch are there as they were in the other Apollo flights. Our diodes are also in the Eagle. After it landed on the moon, some of them were with Armstrong and Aldrin in their communication system during their walk on the moon.”

  • Daniel Billings

    I would stay and fight if there was really a chance that they would have a fair hearing. The government is so corrupt is the issue that will stop Starship if this government corruption persist.
    As for having a place to go Space X could go to several places. And I really think that most of his workforce would be willing to relocate. I am not happy that they may do that btw. I just see the writing on the wall when it come to this level of corruption . They have not any interest in seeing Musk and company being successful. There is nothing in it for them. No pork to strech out over decades and they dont care. Its only ment to spread taxpayers money to dinosaurs like Boeing of Perhaps Blue Origin would be a new money sink.

  • Ron Desmarais

    Can’t they build the starships and super heavy boosters in Boca and then launch from the floating platforms to get around any environmental restrictions? Yes the logistics are a pain but they can be solved. If needed they could go 12 miles off shore I international waters, that might eliminate the ITAR issue.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “We are about to find out if the public will respond differently should the FAA act to block SpaceX.

    After the first Falcon Heavy launch, in which SpaceX launched an unusual but popular mass simulation payload, there was a government announcement limiting photographs from space. The public response caused that to be reversed.

    It may seem hopeless, but we still have a say in our own lives.

    So, an irony that Bezos may be using environmental organizations to slow SpaceX is that Bezos has advocated for manufacturing in space in order to reduce pollution of the Earth. Surely, Bezos must have been willing for other companies to do the transportation, not just Blue Origin.

    Ron Desmarais asked: “Can’t they build the starships and super heavy boosters in Boca and then launch from the floating platforms to get around any environmental restrictions? Yes the logistics are a pain but they can be solved. If needed they could go 12 miles off shore I international waters, that might eliminate the ITAR issue.

    The environmental damage is not the real problem. SpaceX would still have to get FAA and FCC permission to launch, even offshore, and these are the organizations being targeted by the anti-space community, in order to stop SpaceX from moving pollution off the Earth.

    Another irony is that off-planet industrial operations would necessarily have to find ways to be more efficient and less polluting, as a space station or its orbit would become polluted very fast if waste products were not disposed of properly. These techniques would quickly find their way onto the Earth, too. In the mean time, we dump a lot of waste products into the air, into the water, and onto the land, despite the EPA (which — yet another irony — has become the world’s worst polluter, when it dumped toxic wastewater from two mines into western U.S. rivers, a few years back, contaminating a huge portion of western America).

  • pzatchok

    Musk could do almost all the manufacturing in Boca Chica and float the rockets on barges to the Florida launch sight for final assembly and launch..
    That way the environmentalists would be fighting the US government directly again.

    As for Musk launching outside the US in international waters. I believe that ITAR and other rules also cover that. He would need special permission and more than likely a US navy or Coast Guard escort.
    Remember the first launch troubles he had with civilians wanting to watch?

    Musk could also apply influence to the right people in order to have the BE4 contract canceled unless Bezos can quickly provide fully working examples for their first launch.

  • Jeff Wright

    Save RGV needs to be d o x x e d

  • Mark

    The ‘non profit’ organization that has the resources and political pull in this bar fight is the Sierra Club. As I mentioned above: Sierra Club has a chapter in Texas named ‘Lower Rio Grande Valley Group’.
    They have an entire webpage devoted to ‘SpaceX Boca Chica Factsheet & Talking Points’. So it looks like they have put some serious resources behind this effort.

  • skeptix

    There are close to 30,000 pieces of space debris large enough to be tracked with current technology. The total including smaller pieces is probably much higher.

    Complete deployment of StarLink plans for 40,000+ satellites. Expected lifetime of the satellites is 5 years. Dead satellites will keep orbiting for years, while replacement satellites will be put in orbit.

    A collision of 2 objects will result in dozens if not hundreds of pieces of debris, each moving at thousands of mph (you can search for images of damage on the space station caused by space debris). Here is one:

  • Jay

    The dead Starlink satellites will not be up for years. The satellites have a thruster to deorbit it in a couple months. This system was tested on the first prototypes and is in use now.

  • Mitch S.

    I wonder if Bezos’ home is being decorated with Hunter Biden “artwork”.

  • George C

    Competitors funding political pressure groups that slow and even stop development is a story at least as old as the Roman Republic. But always worth investigating. Reporters hounded Bill Gates for years after MS went public to make contributions to the non profit complex and politics. He resisted longer than any other of his generation. Just as an example.

    As far as space junk, there is so much legacy junk that only the cheapest possible launch capability, that is SpaceX, makes it possible to even think about making a practical cleanup effort.

    Behindtheblack is doing a great job of tracking all of these things.

  • Edward

    From the article:

    The current 1,600 close passes include those between two Starlink satellites. Excluding these encounters, Starlink satellites approach other operators’ spacecraft 500 times every week.

    Well, that is telling. SpaceX has total control over 70% of the close encounters involving their own satellites.

    [Kayhan Space] estimates that on average, an operator managing about 50 satellites will receive up to 300 official conjunction alerts a week. These alerts include encounters with other satellites as well as pieces of debris. Out of these 300 alerts, up to ten would require operators to perform avoidance maneuvers

    Wait. On average, an operator gets 6 alerts per satellite per week, but SpaceX is only getting 1 per satellite per week? SpaceX is doing better than the average operator? SpaceX is doing something better than other operators to avoid collisions, yet they are the ones that the press is attacking?

    “Starlink doesn’t publicize all the maneuvers that they’re making, but it is believed that they are making a lot of small corrections and adjustments all the time,” Lewis said. “But that causes problems for everybody else because no one knows where the satellite is going to be and what it is going to do in the next few days.”

    If I read this right, they are now complaining that SpaceX has active collision avoidance. Isn’t this just what the doctor ordered? It does not cause a problem for everybody else, only to those whose satellites pass through the orbital altitudes of SpaceX satellites.

    Aren’t the satellites that have elliptical orbits more dangerous than the SpaceX satellites that are in circular orbits? Yet it is SpaceX’s circular-orbit satellites that are the ones they complain about.

  • Edward, I’ve edited your last sentence to better focus on what’s going on here:

    Yet it is SpaceX …. they complain about.

    Because it is easier to complain, than achieve.

  • Edward

    Jester Naybor,
    You wrote: “Because it is easier to complain, than achieve.

    You managed to do both. You complained about my point, and you achieved an improvement, by pointing out that they don’t like successes made by other people.

  • Just wait until the leftists start focusing upon the planetary protection issue. If there is one issue about SpaceX push for Mars that could create a lot of activist response, that will be it.

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