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Texas town regulates SpaceX engine tests

Nice rocket company you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it: The city council of McGregor, Texas, has imposed new regulations and fines on SpaceX should it perform rocket engine tests at its facility there in a manner the council does not like.

Though the city council was entirely within its rights, and the ban on night testing make sense, in reading the list of fines and regulations I couldn’t help thinking that they will in the end only accomplish one thing: to drive SpaceX away. This regulation in particular stood out:

The actual launching of any vehicle into the atmosphere or into space is specifically prohibited at the McGregor facility.

This would appear to ban SpaceX from doing any more hover tests of the Falcon 9 first stage. For an innovative company like SpaceX to operate as it wants, it needs the freedom to operate as it wants. These restrictions could prevent the company from doing so.

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13 comments

  • mpthompson

    Not just the Falcon 9 first stage, but also the testing of the Dragon 2 hovering and landing. Until now Space X has been doing tethered testing of Dragon 2, but I presume un-tethered testing would soon be in the plans.

    Any idea on the motivations behind the new restrictions and regulations?

  • Edward

    Robert,
    You seem to have lost the link to the article in the posting.

    However, what appears to be a change in McGregor’s regulations seems typical of the kinds of things that make it harder to accomplish anything in this once-free country. What has changed from the time that SpaceX first moved into McGregor and now to make the town change the regulations?

  • enginemike

    Seems like either money has changed hands to cripple SpaceX or the general stupidity that has taken over this country has reached McGregor.

  • “The actual launching of any vehicle into the atmosphere or into space is specifically prohibited at the McGregor facility.”

    So if a grocery store balloon is released, that would violate the law. As they say, if you want to have an unpopular law repealed, enforce it.

  • enginemike

    Maybe not. The article refers to a vehicle launched from the ‘McGregor facility’. One could argue that the candy store on Elm street is not the ‘McGregor facility’.

  • LocalFluff

    Luckily it is near the border so SpaceX could very carefully make sure that not a single local resident gets a job or spends a dime in the county.

  • Phill O

    Idia seems willing for business!

  • Phill O

    India — sorry

  • Wayne

    Sounds like a shakedown scheme on its face. >Pure rent-seeking.

    Depends heavily whether these are put forth as ‘Zoning Restrictions’ or just ‘ City Ordinances.’
    -Courts rarely if ever, touch Zoning, on the theory the locals can replace their Council Members via the ballot-box, if zoning gets out of hand.
    (“retro-active Zoning rules” are unconstitutional, but good luck with challenging those. Looks like SpaceX just acquired a new “partner” in the City Council.)

    SpaceX would have shaky “standing” to challenge these, unless & until they violated the rules, at which point they could proceed.

  • Steve C

    Space X goofed in going to McGregor. It is a bedroom community for Waco trying for an image of genteel southern living and rockets going off does not fit into the image. The situation is only going to get worse. I would write it off as a bad deal and move. Somewhere like Harlingen perhaps. More people, less pretentious, and a whole lot of empty land.

  • Edward

    Wayne wrote: “Sounds like a shakedown scheme on its face.”

    It certainly reads that way. It looks like the city council has set fines high enough to get some real revenue, but low enough that SpaceX may not mind being a scofflaw and paying fines for violations. I think it may depend upon whether SpaceX is willing to be a bad neighbor and pay the fines or if they want to be seen as a good company. They may keep their McGregor test facility only for the smaller and quieter tests.

    SpaceX Has already moved some of their testing to Spaceport America in New Mexico:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/spacex-is-moving-its-grasshopper-test-program-to-new-mexicos-spaceport/

    From a newsletter of a year ago:
    http://spaceportamerica.com/newsletters/spaceport-america-newsletter-january-2015/
    “SpaceX has invested approximately $2 million in improvements to its launch area at the spaceport and is planning to begin flight testing the Falcon 9R in the spring.”

  • Dick Eagleson

    I suspect these new legal restrictions aren’t going to wind up pinching SpaceX very much except, perhaps, the “no-fly zone” rule. Even for something like an all-up test of a Falcon Heavy, there’s a lot that can be done to limit the intensity of the noise. The simplest and cheapest “muffler” is just increasing the amount of water used to suppress sound and control flame and smoke. Launch pads are all equipped with such systems. Any test stands in McGregor not already so-equipped can be quickly retrofitted.

    The “no-fly” thing probably just means SpaceX will actually find something useful to do with its modest investment at Spaceport America. It could move all Dragonfly test operations there now that it looks as though its original plans to use the site for additional test flights of F9R Dev2 have been overtaken and rendered redundant by the rapid progress made on actual recoveries of Falcon 9 1st stages. Spaceport America would, I’m certain, be delighted to get the work. It could even lead to SpaceX conducting a much larger and more impressive Dragonfly-like test program there a few years hence when it comes time to wring out the much larger MCT lander. Tests of that puppy might even become a tourist attraction.

    And, if the incipient NIMBY-ism in McGregor becomes too annoying, SpaceX can always stand up some City Council candidates of their own to challenge the current city administration. The population of McGregor is only about 5,000. I don’t know how many employees SpaceX has at the McGregor site, but they have a dozen or so positions currently advertised for so I’m guessing over 100 but probably not over 300. If these employees all live within the McGregor city limits they would constitute a significant voting bloc in any local election. If most of them live, say, in Waco, though, this approach wouldn’t work.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Steve C,

    Your Harlingen recommendation is a good one. That’s especially so given that SpaceX is already committed to building a new spaceport nearby in Brownsville. Harlingen already has a modest base of aerospace workers employed at a ULA plant there that makes Atlas V payload fairings among other things. Based on recent ULA announcements, at least some of that work is going to be moved to Decatur, AL. The plant might even be closed entirely. So this would be a good time for SpaceX to be looking at what operations it might usefully relocate to Harlingen.

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