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House Democrats propose and Republicans approve Space Force increasing spaceport fees

We’re here to help you! The House Armed Services Committee, controlled by a majority of Republicans, has approved a defense funding bill that includes an amendment, proposed by a Democrat, that would allow the Space Force to charge much larger fees for the use of its spaceports.

Committee members signed off on the legislation June 22, which proposes $874 billion in defense spending. The full House is slated to vote on the bill in July. Included in the bill is an amendment offered by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., that would allow the Space Force to collect fees from companies for the indirect costs of using the military’s launch ranges, like overhead infrastructure or other charges that a traditional port authority might impose on its users.

Today, per the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, the service is limited to collecting fees for direct costs like electricity at a launch pad. The law also restricts the Space Force from accepting in-kind contributions from commercial companies to upgrade its ranges.

The committee’s bill, if approved, would require commercial launch companies to “reimburse the Department of Defense for such indirect costs as the Secretary concerned considers to be appropriate.”

The bill also includes a Republican amendment that encourages the Space Force to charge other additional fees, or require private companies to do work the Space Force is presently handles.

Though the latter amendment might make sense, both amendments will likely achieve just one thing: making it much more expensive to launch from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg. Whether those increased costs will be kept as low as possible is entirely unknown. We certainly should not trust officials in the federal government to do so.

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 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.


The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"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

7 comments

  • Jay

    Yes, the electrical needs are a lot greater now at these sites. I think what sparked this bill was when ULA abandoned a site at Vandy and really ticked off the base since they had to clean it up, take it out of service, and was stuck with the bill.

    A lot of companies are refurbishing these launch sites, but I bet there will be a contractual clause about turning it over clean at the end of lease or decommissiong the site if needed. In other words a damage deposit.

  • Jeff Wright

    Two sides to every issue.

  • Edward

    Space News, in March, had an article on this topic:
    Cape Congestion: The World’s Most Active Launch Site Is In Danger of Becoming a Victim of Its Own Success
    https://spacenews.com/cape-congestion-worlds-busiest-spaceport-stretched-to-its-limits/

    But warning signs are emerging. One is that the Cape is effectively full. “Today, every single pad we have on the Cape is occupied by somebody or multiple somebodies,” [deputy director of launch and range operations for the Space Force’s Space Systems Command, Col. James] Horne said during a panel at the SpaceCom conference Feb. 22. “There’s massive congestion, tons of construction going on.”

    The additional payments may be able to help increase the number of companies launching rockets and the increased cadence of these launches. Current law limits what the leasing companies can contribute to the government landlord to help with infrastructure or other services.

    [Thomas Engler, who leads the center planning and development directorate at KSC] noted on a SpaceCom panel that the center was already trying to juggle growing power demands at the center. That included “carving out” part of the grid that serves Exploration Park, the commercial development just outside the center’s gates, so that a local utility could set up a substation to meet the needs of Blue Origin’s New Glenn manufacturing facility there.

    SpaceX’s Falcon launches and the coming Starship are also hungry for electrical power. However, laws limit what the government landlord can do:

    Even something as seemingly simple as maintaining a road is difficult. “Our roads are not adequate to support how we transport things back and forth across KSC and the Cape,” Horne said. Some bridges can’t be used, he added, because they can’t support the loads of vehicles transporting rockets or spacecraft.

    “We frankly don’t have a lot of mechanisms to move fast on any of that,” he said. He described one bit of bureaucratic sleight-of-hand where the Space Force worked with Space Florida, the state space development agency, to lease a road to Space Florida and had it handle a widening project for it, then returned it to service. “If I had to do that the old-fashioned way, it would have taken me 20 years.”

    That, he said, was because of the slow pace of military construction projects in general. He noted work had only recently started at nearby Patrick Space Force Base for a new entrance gate, even though it had been on the books to be built for more than 15 years. “We can’t operate like that anymore.”

    An excellent example of why government launch sites may not be the best sites for commercial launch companies. The government landlord just isn’t able to quickly adapt to the growing needs of the launch community that it is being paid to serve.

    It seems that Capitalism in Space is so successful that it is beginning to overwhelm the launch sites, which had been designed for a mediocre space program, not a booming one.

    Will the extra fees really help? Maybe, but either way, I think that it is time for commercial companies to find ways of building privately owned and operated launch sites. The government may be here to help, but it can only do a limited amount. We may have reached that limit with the rousing success of the Falcons.

  • Jerry Greenwood

    Although providing these facilities (the government isn’t using them much after all ) is a good thing for the growth of the industry as well as the nation overall, these companies need to pay the costs incurred by the government and the government should take into account the improvements these companies make to the often neglected facilities. Tacking on overhead costs might be over the top.

  • pzatchok

    It will eventually work out to be pretty similar to the private airline industry. Private space ports charging for facilities and “gate” options.

    Flights will have to get to at least once a day from a single facility for a profit to be seen in the private sector. Until then the government will have to do the heavy lifting.

  • GeorgeC

    Here is a news report about it taking the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) seven years to repair a train station: https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/we-can-do-better-lawmaker-slams-mbtas-7-year-timetable-to-reopen-commuter-rail-station/3075330/

    The MBTA is the ultimate expression.

  • Star Bird

    I would be in favor of sending Democrat Liberals into space and leaving them there

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