Tag Archives: spaceport

Local Texas city council votes to keep spaceport

The Midland, Texas city council today voted to renew its contract with the company managing its spaceport there.

The council voted 6-1 to renew its contract with SilverWing Enterprises, an aerospace consulting company that manages Midland’s spaceport license. The one vote came from Spencer Robnett, who has been public with his belief that the spaceport needs to be shut down.

“Yeah I don’t think it would ever have a chance in Midland,” Robnett said. “I do think the space business and space technology and aerospace sector is evolving. There’s a lot of money being invested in it by billionaires, Bezos, Musk, and Branson. Unfortunately we don’t have a billionaire in Midland chasing aerospace investment. We’ve got a small economic development corporation that takes direction from the city council.”

Robnett might have a point. Midland’s spaceport had been the base of operations for XCOR’s Lynx, and with XCOR bankrupt and gone there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest by anyone else in flying any rockets from there. Part of their problem is their location, which is far from the coast and would likely limit the launch options in order to avoid populated areas.

The question has to be: What does Midland offer to rocket companies that other spaceports don’t? Until they can provide an answer to that question, the money the council is spending on this spaceport is probably going to waste.

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UK estimates its new spaceport could capture thousands of smallsat launches

Capitalism in space: Estimates by the United Kingdom’s space agency suggest that its new spaceport in Scotland could capture thousands of smallsat launches by the end of the 2020s.

Figures released … suggest that existing ‘rideshare’ small satellite launches (small satellites piggybacking on larger missions) are capable of meeting less than 35% of the total demand. This reveals a significant gap in commercial small satellite launch provision for which future UK spaceports are well placed to compete.

The press release also gives an update on the recent actions of the two smallsat rocket companies, Orbex and Lockheed Martin (in partnership with Rocket Lab), to establish operations in Scotland.

It remains to be seen whether these predictions will come true. Right now it appears that a giant boom in the smallsat industry is about to happen, and if it does the need for launchpads will become critical. If so, the policy shift in the UK to favor private spaceflight is arriving at just the right time.

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United Kingdom picks location in Scotland for spaceport

The British government, after years of study, has chosen a location in northern Scotland for its first homegrown spaceport.

In a statement issued in advance of the start of the Farnborough International Airshow, the U.K. Space Agency said it will provide initial funding of 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) to begin development of a vertical launch site in Sutherland, on the Atlantic coast in northern Scotland.

In its announcement, the agency said it selected the site “because Scotland is the best place in the U.K. to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.” The site would allow launches to the north, supporting spacecraft operating in sun-synchronous or other highly inclined orbits.

The announcement gave few details about the facility or indicated what company, or companies, would use it, but noted launches would begin there in the early 2020s. More information is expected to be announced July 16 at the air show.

This announcement contradicts a 2016 policy decision that had instead opened up spaceport licensing to whatever location wished to do it. Now the British government appears to have stepped in and picked this one site, though the article also says they are considering a second site for horizontal launches, using such systems as the Pegasus rocket, Stratolaunch, and LauncherOne.

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The mysterious upcoming commercial launch in Alaska

Link here. The article takes a detailed look to try to find out the unnamed commercial company behind the mid-April launch, and learns that it will be a suborbital launch, and that the company might be one called Astra Space.

Alaska Aerospace signed a contract with Astra Space in 2017 to support launches of that company’s vehicle from PSCA, according to the minutes of an Alaska Aerospace board of directors meeting in August 2017.

Alaska Aerospace “has a contract with Astra to support the first four launches of their small liquid fuel commercial launch vehicle from PSCA. The first launch is planned for December 2017,” the minutes state. It added that it would be the first liquid-propellant launch from the spaceport, which previously had hosted only solid-fuel rockets. “This will be a very innovative launch.”

Minutes from a Nov. 2 meeting of the Alaska Aerospace board stated that “Astra is moving forward” with plans, holding weekly planning teleconferences and paying a $100,000 deposit for a launch date. That launch was planned at that time for “possibly February or later.”

It appears the company is doing work for both NASA and DARPA, the latter of which might explain the secrecy. Or maybe the company is taking the Blue Origin approach, keeping things close to the vest until they are sure of success.

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Alaskan spaceport schedules first commercial launch

The spaceport in Kodiak, Alaska, has announced that its first commercial launch is now scheduled for mid-April.

The Coast Guard has notified mariners of the launch, which is scheduled for some time between April 6-13, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Monday.

Alaska Aerospace has launched 19 rockets in collaboration with government agencies including NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency since the spaceport opened in 1998. But in recent years, the publicly owned corporation has partnered with commercial launch companies amid the growth of the private spaceflight industry. In preparation for the launch, berms are in place to protect the launch pad and surrounding facilities. A glass structure has been placed on top of a shipping container, which will serve as a mission control center.

Sources with knowledge of the industry have refused to name the company that will launch in April due to a non-disclosure agreement, the Daily Mirror reported. But the launch will not be from Vector Space Systems or Rocket Lab — two companies that have known contracts with Alaska Aerospace.

If not Rocket Lab or Vector, this suggests another smallsat company, such as Interorbital, Firefly, or Arca, or even a company I have not spotted up to now. If so, this will certainly heat up the competition in the smallsat rocket industry.

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A SpaceX expansion at Boca Chica spaceport?

SpaceX’s request to the Texas government for an additional $5 million commitment might be because the company wants to expand on its original plans for its Boca Chica spaceport, and needs additional infrastructure work from the local authorities.

State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said SpaceX asked legislators to set aside funds to support space-related companies and operations in the state, though the money would not be specifically earmarked for SpaceX or the Boca Chica project. The company also has a rocket development facility in McGregor.

Oliveira, who helped assemble a coalition of key legislators to secure the $5 million in development aid, said some of the money might be used to support rocket operations beyond what SpaceX previously has said it wants to do at Boca Chica. “About a year ago, SpaceX came to me with their concept of a new, larger, expanded plan for Boca Chica Beach,” Oliveira said. “The concept went well beyond conducting launches, and would require new commitments for construction, investment and jobs to support the new operations.”

This could simply be a lobbying technique by Oliveira to get more money. Or it could be because SpaceX has actually decided to expand its plans for Boca Chica, which has the advantage over Florida in that the company would have no scheduling conflicts as the spaceport would be theirs entirely.

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Hotels coming to Boca Chica due to SpaceX spaceport

Capitalism in space: Several large hotel chains are putting up new hotels in the Boca Chica area near SpaceX’s new spaceport, expressly because they are anticipating a tourist demand once launches begin.

None of this is a surprise. It is good news, nonetheless.

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Development at SpaceX’s Texas spaceport to pick up in 2018

Capitalism in space: Though construction at SpaceX’s Texas spaceport has been slower than expected, the company expects to accelerate development in 2018.

According to SpaceX, [people] won’t have to wait much longer for an increase in activity at the future spaceport. The recently installed antennas at Boca Chica are expected to be operational next year — although they’ll initially track flights blasting off from elsewhere — and the company also indicated development of the overall launch complex should pick up. “Even as our teams worked to modernize and repair our launch complexes in Florida so that we could reliably return to flight for our customers, SpaceX invested $14 million into the South Texas project,” said Gleeson, the company’s spokesman.

“Now, with our launch construction projects in Florida wrapping up by early 2018, SpaceX will be able to turn more attention to our work in South Texas,” he said.

In other words, once SpaceX has got its two launchpads in Florida both up and running, including the first use by the Falcon Heavy of one of those pads, the company will then be able to shift its launchpad operations down to Texas.

The article outlines in detail many of the reasons the development has been slow, but I think the issues highlighted in the quote above, issues I had not considered previously, might be the most important. After the September 2016 launchpad explosion in Florida, SpaceX had to divert resources to repairing that pad, which put Boca Chica on the back burner.

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Road construction at SpaceX’s planned Texas spaceport

Capitalism in space: A $3 million road project at SpaceX’s planned spaceport at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas, is moving forward.

The key tidbit from the article however is this:

Besides the property tax breaks and incentives that Cameron County and other entities around the RGV have already offered SpaceX to come to the Valley, Garcia said they’ll continue to do what it takes to stay on target for a 2018 launch. “Every month we’re going to be on the map,” he said.

It appears that the reason work on the spacepad itself has seemingly stalled is because SpaceX has been waiting for this road work by the state to be completed. Either way, they are aiming for a first launch next year. At that time SpaceX should have four launchpads, 2 in Florida, one in California, and one in Texas.

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Georgia governor signs spaceport bill

Capitlism in space: The governor of Georgia yesterday signed into law a spaceport liability law that will make that state competitive with other states.

I’m not sure yet how realistic Georgia’s hopes are for a viable spaceport. Vector’s next test suborbital flight is scheduled to occur there, but will other companies shift their business there? I am not sure. Nonetheless, this raises the level of competition, which can never be bad.

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Federal agencies question establishment of SpaceX spaceport and three liquefied natural gas plants in Brownsville

Two federal agencies are questioning the safety of establishing three liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants near SpaceX’s new spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing the applications for the LNG export terminals, which plan to take natural gas from the Eagle Ford south of San Antonio, liquefy it and export the LNG to overseas customers.

The Federal Aviation Administration hosted an Aug. 18 meeting to discuss space launch activities near the proposed LNG facilities, according to a FERC filing released on Thursday. During the meeting, FAA officials discussed their role and regulations regarding commercial space launches, as well as the agency’s licensing and public safety requirements prior to the launch of any future mission.

While it makes perfect sense to keep a rocket launchpad safely away from large amounts of liquefied natural gas, I found the article’s concluding paragraphs to be most revealing:

Meanwhile, environmentalists, who were critical of the SpaceX project and oppose the LNG plants, said the launch site is too close to the proposed export terminals. “This announcement should be a wake-up call and warning that putting LNG terminals within six miles of the SpaceX launch site is a bad idea,” Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club Chair Jim Chapman told the Business Journal. “Furthermore, Annova LNG wants to put its facility within the SpaceX launch closure area. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that idea won’t fly.” [emphasis mine]

Note how the environmentalists are essentially against everything. They really aren’t opposed to having these two facilities being placed too close to each other, what they really want is that nothing gets built at all. Most instructive.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.
» Read more

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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