SpaceX recently test-fired the first stage of Falcon 9R rocket, in preparation for its upcoming first test flight. SpaceX says reusability is “the key to making human life multi-planetary.” The reusable Falcon 9R first stage is their first step toward that goal.

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2014 , SpaceX

"Red Dragon" Mars Sample-Return Mission Architecture

NASA could launch a Mars sample-return mission in 2022 without breaking the bank, according to an internal study conducted at NASA Ames Research Center. The mission would use a slightly modified version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, called Red Dragon.

Red Dragon could land two tons (twice the weight of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity) on the Martian surface. The payload would include a new Mars Ascent Vehicle, Earth Return Vehicle, and equipment to drill two meters into the Martian surface.

The NASA Ames study team presented a paper at the IEEE Aerospace Conference, which took place this week in Montana. Leonard David has details on

Written by Astro1 on March 8th, 2014 , Planetary science, SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A SpaceX launch site near Brownsville in South Texas is looking more likely, according to news reports.

Spaceflight Now quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk saying, “I think Texas is looking increasingly likely,” although the final go-ahead is still dependent on environmental and regulatory approval.

According to Spaceflight Now, SpaceX believes it has enough business to justify four launch pads: two in Florida, and one each in Texas and California.

The Texas launch site would be dedicated to commercial launches, while NASA missions would continue to be launched out of Florida. SpaceX currently uses pad at Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and is also bidding on Pad 39A, the former Apollo/Shuttle launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

California is the site for polar launches (including military missions) from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

SpaceX has nearly 50 missions scheduled over the five-year lease period it is seeking at Pad 39A. SpaceX believes this is sufficient to justify developing and maintaining four launch pads. This demand is based on both the Falcon 9 and proposed Falcon Heavy.

An interesting question is now the reusable Falcon 9R, now in development, would affect these pad requirements. The answer to that question is unknown to us and, we suspect, probably unknown to SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on November 16th, 2013 , Spaceports, SpaceX

SpaceX will begin testing a methane-fueled rocket engine next year, according to Space News.

The Raptor is “is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars,” according to SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin. “The Raptor engine currently in development is the first in what we expect to be a family of engines.”

Methane engines are considered a key technology for Mars exploration and settlement because methane can be produced from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. NASA has done work on small methane engines, for that reason. NASA paid XCOR Aerospace and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) $3 million to develop a 7,500-pound-thrust LOX/methane engine, which could be used in alternative service module for NASA’s Orion capsule. Work on the engine was completed in 2007. (NASA has no plans to use the engine at this time, however.)

XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 rocket engine

The Raptor engine is expected to be much larger than the XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 engine. According to Space News, the Raptor will produce 660,000 pounds of thrust in vacuum (about 30% larger than the Space Shuttle Main Engine).

Raptor testing will be performed at NASA Stennis Space Center in Louisiana, rather than SpaceX’s usual rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX must negotiate a reimbursable Space Act Agreement to rent facilities first, however.

Written by Astro1 on October 26th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 descent

SpaceX released this image which shows the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket descending toward the ocean. According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the stage was intact just before touchdown but did not survive contact with the ocean. SpaceX plans to continue development of its recovery system, which will eventually return to the launch site for landing.

A statement on the SpaceX website says:

Though not a primary mission objective, SpaceX was also able to initiate two engine relights on the first stage. For the first restart burn, we lit three engines to do a supersonic retro propulsion, which we believe may be the first attempt by any rocket stage. The first restart burn was completed well and enabled the stage to survive reentering the atmosphere in a controlled fashion.

Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX released this video of the Next Generation Falcon 9 demonstration flight.

Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX’s reusable first-stage teatbed, Grasshopper, reached a record 744 meters (2,441 feet) during a test flight at McGregor, TX on October 7. The latest flight of the Grasshopper will be the last flight, according to The Waco Tribune.

The Tribune quotes a Facebook post by SpaceX: “Next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.”

Written by Astro1 on October 13th, 2013 , SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Red Dragon capsule landing on Mars

Last year, there were rumors that Space Exploration Technologies would soon conduct an initial public stock offering (IPO). If there was any truth to those rumors, those plans have apparently been put on the shelf. Any IPO plans are long-term and tied to Mars settlement, according to today’s tweet from SpaceX founder Elon Musk:

No near term plans to IPO SpaceX. Only possible in very long term when Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Settlement, SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Grasshopper VTVL reusable first-stage demonstrator

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will soon move its VTVL reusable first-stage demonstrator, Grasshopper, to Spaceport New Mexico for further testing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 7th, 2013 , Spaceports, SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon capsule berthing at the International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies launched another Dragon capsule this morning, heading for the International Space Station. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was perfect, but the Dragon capsule has experienced some anomalies. SpaceX mission controllers have had trouble getting some of the thrusters online.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained the problem in a message to his Twitter followers: “Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.”

SpaceX now reports that vital signs on a second thruster pod are “trending positive.” When SpaceX has at least two pods restored, it will begin manuevering the capsule toward the space station. The loss of some thrusters could result a later-than-planned arrival at the space station. In the worst case, if SpaceX can’t get the second thruster pod working, the mission could be a total loss.

Some people have said that Dragon flights are becoming “routine,” but spaceflight will never be routine until we have reusable vehicles.

Expendable rocket and capsule: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to abort the mission, lose the vehicle, the payload, and the $100 million customer payment. Space-station crew won’t have clean underwear for another three months. Life is tough.”

Reusable spacecraft: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to return to base, call in the mechanics, and fly the mission again tomorrow. Space-station crew won’t have fresh sushi for another night. Life is tough.”

Because they don’t throw away expensive hardware, reusable vehicles can also afford more testing and redundancy. So, anomalies are less likely to occur and better tolerated when they do occur. For the most common failures, reusable vehicles are not only “fail safe” but “fail operational.” Most airline passengers are unaware of how often airliners suffer equipment failures in flight. Airliners have enough redundancy that when a piece of hardware fails, the pilots simply shut it down and report the failure to mechanics when the plane lands. Spaceflight needs to evolve to the same point.

Again, we’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on March 1st, 2013 , Space Policy and Management, SpaceX

Citizen space explorers and space entrepreneurs will appear at the prestigious South By Southwest (SxSW) film, music, and interactive-media festival, which takes place in Austin next month.

A panel on “Crowd-sourcing the Space Frontier” will include Anousheh Ansari, who visited the International Space Station in 2006 and was name sponsor for the Ansari X-Prize in 2001, and Citizens in Space project manager and citizen-astronaut candidate Edward Wright.

Also participating on the panel will be NASA Open Innovation Program manager Christopher Gentry and Darlene Damm, founder and co-president of DIY Rockets. The panel will run from 11:00 am to noon on Saturday, March 9.

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who visited the International Space Station in 2008, will speak on “The New Golden Age of Spaceflight” at 11:00 Monday, March 11. Garriott de Cayeux is also vice-chairman of Space Adventures, which markets flights to the International Space Station.

Also on Saturday will be a keynote address by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, at 2:00 PM.

South by Southwest attracts over 32,000 people each year. Admission to these talks will require an Interactive, Gold, or Platinum Badge. Badges are still available at walkup rates of $1150, $1350, or $1595. (Sorry, we do not have any free or discount passes to hand out.)

Citizen space explorer Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Written by Astro1 on February 15th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures, SpaceX

Texas Governor Rick Perry devoted almost a full minute to commercial spaceflight during his State of the State Address.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and XCOR Aerospace are helping to make Texas the Space State.

Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Blue Origin, Commercial Space (General), SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace Tags:

Florida Today reports on a NASA press conference about SpaceX’s Merlin engine problem. NASA says the engine is good to go for the next ISS mission, with certain precautions, but engineers still have not located a specific cause for the failure.

“Investigators think that extra testing may have contributed to a pressure chamber breach,” [NASA ISS program manager] Mike Suffredini said….

Suffredini said engineers had reviewed a huge amount of data but not produced a specific smoking gun,” which he said is not uncommon when investigating systems cannot be recovered.

The next engines in line to fly have been inspected thoroughly, and none has been tested beyond the levels needed to certify them for flight.

Emphasis added.

It sure is nice to bring your engines back home with you, rather than dumping them into the ocean, isn’t it?

That’s hardly news to anyone in the aviation industry. A&P mechanics hate it when a pilot who doesn’t bring part of the airplane back with him.

Still, common wisdom in the space business says expendable vehicles must be cheaper and easier to develop. After all, Von Braun did it that way!

We’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on January 19th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), SpaceX

Boeing CST-100 capsule docks at Bigelow Aerospace space station

Stewart Money at Innerspace has some additional details from the NASA/Bigelow press conference. This part is particularly interesting:

Bigelow announced that the transport price to the station, would be $26.25 million aboard a SpaceX Dragon, or $36.75 million aboard a Boeing CST-100. The 40% price difference is almost certainly due to the much higher cost of the Boeing’s Atlas V launch vehicle, as compared to the SpaceX Falcon 9. The gap could become even more pronounced if Congress ultimately removes the large annual subsidy going to United Launch Alliance in the form of the Launch Capability Contract which is currently on the order of nearly $100 million per flight at current rates.

If this is true, we wonder how Boeing plans to make money. It’s hard to believe that many customers would voluntarily pay $10.5 more for what is essentially the same service.

This might explain why Boeing is reportedly investing very little of its own money in the CST-100. Given a price disadvantage like this, they might not have any customers beyond NASA.

On the other hand, it’s possible Boeing might consider switching the CST-100 to the Falcon 9. Boeing has previously said that CST-100 is booster agnostic. Last year, Boeing said the CST-100 would fly on either the Atlas V or ATK Liberty (the rocket formerly known as Ares I). Liberty is also likely to be a very expensive rocket, besides being vaporware at the moment.

Written by Astro1 on January 18th, 2013 , Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, SpaceX

SpaceX has released a new video with some dramatic views of its Grasshopper reusable first-stage test vehicle during the 12-story test flight on December 17.

Written by Astro1 on January 12th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX’s reusable first-stage test vehicle (Grasshopper) completed a 29-second, 12-story test hop on December 17, 2012 at the company’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

Grasshopper rose 131 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad using closed-loop thrust-vector and throttle control. The test marks a significant increase over previous hops which took place earlier this fall. Grasshopper flew to 6 feet in September and 17.7 feet in November.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

Written by Astro1 on December 26th, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

While US lawmakers  and certain pundits panic over the alleged threat from the emerging Chinese space program (which is now replicating feats the US accomplished decades ago), European lawmakers are worried about a different competitor – an American one.

Space News quotes French Senator Bruno Sido, comparing SpaceX to ArianeSpace: “Visiting Les Mureaux is like entering an impressive laboratory. Visiting SpaceX, which occupies an old factory that once belonged to Boeing, is like entering IKEA. This company has already won many contracts, is well-supported by NASA and is building low-cost launcher that constitutes a real and serious threat.”

Citing the SpaceX competitive threat, French lawmakers are urging an early start on the next-generation Ariane 6 expendable launch vehicle.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is already testing an evolved, reusable Falcon first stage in his Grasshopper program. On November 1, the 10-story VTVL Grasshopper lifted 17.7 feet (5.4 meters, hovered, and touched down in an 8-second test hop at the SpaceX test facility in McGregor, Texas. Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

SpaceX Grasshopper VTVL test vehicle for reusable Falcon rocket

SpaceX is operating inside of the Ariane decision cycle. Ariane 6 is intended to compete with Falcon 9, but by the time Ariane 6 becomes operational, SpaceX may have a fully reusable vehicle.

In fact, Ariane 6 appears to be a technological step backward. According to Aviation Week, the French space agency CNES favors a solid-rocket design for Ariane 6. The reasoning appears to be that a solid rocket could survive longer while losing market share. “Bonnal says even in the worst-case scenarios that assume a 20% decline in market price after 2020, when the rocket would enter service, the solid-rocket configurations could survive on eight launches per year, including three institutional ones for government customers.”

ArianeSpace seems to be securing its line of retreat, as it prepares to surrender the launch market to SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on November 15th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management, SpaceX

SpaceX performed another brief flight test of its reusable first-stage demonstrator, dubbed Grasshopper. According to SpaceX, the flight was the first test using closed-loop thrust vectoring and throttle control. The flight was scheduled for October 29, according to the FAA license, but there has been no confirmation of the date.

SpaceX provided a video, which Clark Lindsey of NewSpace Watch has reposted on YouTube.

It’s strange that this video was released but is not yet available on SpaceX’s own YouTube channel or on the SpaceX website. It’s hard to predict where and when SpaceX videos will appear. Some SpaceX fans got upset recently when Ariel Waldman criticized the SpaceX website, but truthfully, their public communications does seem to be a bit hit and miss. SpaceX fans should realize that it’s okay to like someone and still offer, or accept, constructive criticism. There’s a difference between being a fan and being a fanboy.

Written by Astro1 on November 4th, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

SpaceX will continue to occupy its headquarters building in Hawthorne, California for at least the next 10 years, according to an article in the Daily Breeze. SpaceX reportedly made the commitment after a unanimous vote by the Hawthorne City Council to reduce the tax rates applied to the company.

SpaceX has signed an economic-development agreement with the city which includes a corporate-citizenship clause. The clause allows Hawthorne to use the SpaceX logo for its own branding. It also encourages SpaceX to get involved with schools and community events.

Katherine Nelson, SpaceX vice president of marketing and communications, said, “SpaceX is in a rapid growth mode. These incentives are just ensuring we’re in a position to continue to grow. We are always looking for the best opportunities for our business and for our growth, so we’re pleased we were able to come to an agreement with Hawthorne and we can keep our headquarters here.”

This doesn’t mean that all of SpaceX’s manufacturing facilities will necessarily be in Hawthorne. Sources close to SpaceX tell us the company is rapidly outgrowing its building there. Falcon Heavy, we are told, will likely require a new facility.

SpaceX Dragon capsule berthing at the International Space Station

Written by Astro1 on October 30th, 2012 , SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon capsule has undocked from the International Space Station and returned to Earth. Reports from SpaceX indicate that the capsule has been retrieved by the recovery boat and is on its way back to port.

A SpaceX press release states:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 28th, 2012 , SpaceX

In the last few days, United Launch Alliance, Armadillo, and SpaceX launched rockets, all three of which showed performance anomalies.

On Thursday, October 4, United Launch Alliance launched a US Air Force GPS satellite on a Delta IV rocket. The first stage functioned according to plan, but the second-stage RL-10 engine underperformed, producing less thrust than its nominal 24,750-pound thrust. The engine burned for a longer duration to compensate, and the payload achieved proper orbit.

On Saturday, October 6, Armadillo Aerospace launched its Stig-B rocket for the first time at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The mission goal was to demonstrate flight to 100 kilometers and successful recovery using the supersonic ballute (balloon-parachute) system. The target altitude was not achieved. After launch, software detected that the rocket had reached an abort limit and shut the engine down. The rocket was successfully recovered, analysis is underway, and another flight is expected within a few weeks.

On Sunday, October 7, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying another Dragon capsule to the Internstional Space Station. Unlike the last Dragon flight, which was considered a test, this was officially an operational mission. About 1 minute 19 seconds into flight, one of the Merlin 1C first-stage engines failed, as can be seen in the following slow-motion video:

Based solely on the video, some observers have concluded that the event was a sudden catastrophic disassembly (i.e., engine explosion). At the moment, SpaceX is saying that it was an engine shutdown but has no further details. Update: SpaceX is now saying that the debris seen in the video is an aerodynamic fairing which ruptured when the engine shut down and lost pressure.

The Falcon 9 is designed to lose a first-stage engine, even explosively, and continue a mission. In the event of an explosion, shields protect neighboring engines from shrapnel damage. The Saturn V had a similar engine-out capability but was not designed to withstand an explosive failure.

If this this event was an explosion, it shows that the shrapnel shields work. Blowing an engine on a multi-engine rocket is similar to blowing a piston in an a piston-engine aircraft: a serious anomaly, but not necessarily fatal if the system is designed for it. During World War II, P-47 Thunderbolts would return to base with a lot of pistons shot out. In the jet era, the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been known to return to base with one engine shot away. The Falcon 9 was able to continue its mission, burning its remaining engines a bit long (like the Delta a few days earlier), and put its Dragon payload into an almost-perfect orbit. Perhaps SpaceX should have called the Falcon 9 the “Thunderbolt III.”

That having been said, Falcon 9 could not continue a mission after the failure of a second stage engine. (There’s only one.) So, this is a situation SpaceX will want to investigate.

Some critics will now say SpaceX cut too many corners and should have done more testing and analysis. Flight testing is always a good thing, and SpaceX is doing it right now. NASA may have classified this as an operational mission, but that doesn’t mean there’s no testing and analysis going on. Remember that the Space Shuttle was declared operational after only four missions, but NASA continued testing and tweaking throughout the 30-year program.

SpaceX could have done some additional flight tests, with dummy payloads, before starting cargo runs to ISS. That would have delayed payloads to ISS, cost NASA more money (those Russian Progress flights aren’t cheap anymore), and not resulted in any more test data than the actual cargo flights produce.

In the early days of rocketry, it was common to do a lot more test flights before committing to carrying cargo for paying customers. The economics of large expendable rockets changed that. That’s true for Boeing and Lockheed as much as SpaceX. The number of test flights is greatly reduced; to compensate, a lot more money is spent on analysis and systems engineering prior to the first test flight. All that analysis does not come cheap, however, and even the best analysis cannot uncover all the unknowns that crop up in flight.

If flight testing were cheaper and easier, vehicle developers could reduce the amount of systems analysis that’s required before first flight. That would reduce development time as well as development cost.

Optimizing rockets for cheap flight test would require a new design approach. What would a highly testable rocket look like?

A highly testable rocket would be cheap enough to fly often. It would require minimal preparation time, so flight tests could be scheduled quickly, when required. It would be recoverable after an anomaly, so engineers could examine the hardware to determine what happened rather than relying solely on telemetry data. It would be incrementally testable, allowing for low-altitude, low-speed flight tests early on, when systems are immature.

In other words, it would be a reusable rocket.

Nevertheless, the myth persists, in the aerospace industry, that reusable rockets are more expensive to develop. To quote the legendary late rocket engineer Max Hunter, “The people who say expendables are cheaper to develop forget that in order to develop a rocket, you have to fly a rocket.”

During the 1960′s, General Dynamics did an apples-to-apples comparison of a reusable rocket (the X-15) and an expendable rocket (the Atlas A) of similar size and performance. They found that the X-15 was more complex, but also more testable, more reliable, and cheaper to develop. The US Air Force performed a parallel study, using slightly different methods, and reached the same conclusion.

More recently, we have examples such as White Knight and SpaceShip One, a two-stage system developed for about $15 million. The development program included 66 flights of White Knight and 17 flights of SpaceShip One. By comparison, in 2011, NASA’s sounding rocket program had a budget of $45 million and conducted just 13 launches.

Rocket development, like other aspects of spaceflight, is highly immature. Jet engines and liquid-propellent rockets have been around for similar lengths of time, but the number of rocket engines that have flown is minuscule compared to the number of jet engines. So, it isn’t surprising that in-flight anomalies still occur quite often. The development of rocket engines has been arrested by decisions made back in the 1960′s, which led to 50 years of reliance on expendable rockets with trivial flight rates. Fortunately, that era is rapidly drawing to a close.

Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace, SpaceX

The Grasshopper test vehicle made its first brief test hop today at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas.

The suborbital Grasshopper is intended to prove techniques that could lead to a recoverable first stage for the Falcon launch vehicle, as shown in the following animation.

Written by Astro1 on September 22nd, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

We’re not talking about the migration of humans from Earth into space, although we are optimistic that will begin in earnest in the next few years.

We’re talking about the migration of commercial space companies from one part of the United States to another.

In July, XCOR Aerospace announced the relocation of its main research and development operation to Midland, Texas. Next week, XCOR is expected to make another announcement. Although the official statement won’t come until August 23, word is already out on the street that  XCOR will announce the development of an engine and vehicle production facility in Florida.

XCOR will retain some operations at Mojave Air and Space Port, in the high desert of California where the company was born. It will probably continue to base a Lynx suborbital spaceship there for the foreseeable future, to provide a launch site for West Coast missions. The company’s main focus, however, is clearly shifting to other states.

Some observers may question the sudden expansion of XCOR into not one, but two new states. The move makes sense, however. Locating R&D and production facilities in two separate states will minimize the possibility of R&D activities randomizing the assembly line.

It’s also worth noting that Masten Space Systems has a signed contract with Space Florida to begin flying its VTVL rocketship at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At the moment, the agreement calls for nothing more than demonstration flights, but that could change in the future. Space Florida officials expect XCOR to create 152 new jobs in Florida. They are no doubt keeping a close eye on Masten. If they see similar potential for growth, it’s reasonable to expect that they will make a push for that company as well.

Meanwhile, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is looking to expand operations in Texas, both at its McGregor testing facility near Waco and a proposed new launch site in South Texas.

All of these moves have one common denominator: they are away from California. While other states are dangling incentives in front of emerging space companies, California has elected to incentivize trial lawyers instead. States such as Texas have passed bills to protect commercial spaceflight operators from potentially crippling lawsuits, but a bill introduced in the California legislature was watered down to the point of meaninglessness. It appears that California has decided to export aerospace jobs.

Written by Astro1 on August 16th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems, Spaceports, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace

Florida and Puerto Rico are competing with Texas for the site of the new SpaceX launch site, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Texas appears to have the inside track, however, according to a statement by CEO Elon Musk as reported by the Associated Press.

Why is Texas leading the race for the SpaceX facility?

José Pérez-Riera, Puerto Rico’s secretary for economic development and commerce, points out that the island commonwealth is closer to the equator than either Cape Canaveral or Brownsville. That would translate into slightly greater lift capacity for SpaceX rockets. SpaceX might also benefit from lower labor costs and the fact that Puerto Rico residents do not pay US income taxes.

On the other hand, a Puerto Rico launch site would come with some political uncertainty. Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status could change in the future if the island opts for either statehood or independence. Statehood would change the tax situation, but independence could be particularly worrisome. As an independent nation, Puerto Rico would be subject to US export controls, requiring ITAR permits for every rocket and payload.

Florida officials have argued that locating a second SpaceX pad in that state would save money by eliminating redundancy in the SpaceX supply chain. Redundancy, however, may be exactly what SpaceX is seeking. Locating all of its launch sites in one geographic area would leave SpaceX vulnerable to a localized natural disaster. The Florida Space Coast is infamously vulnerable to storm surge. In 2004, Hurricane Frances threatened to wipe out the entire Shuttle infrastructure.

Increasing its presence in Texas would also increase SpaceX’s base of political support. There’s also the matter of proximity to Johnson Space Center and the surrounding manned space community. That may be a small consideration at present, since NASA currently plans to make Kennedy Space Center the lead for commercial crew activities. That, too, is a political consideration that could change in the future, however. With Congressional elections every two years, it behooves SpaceX to keep its options open. A Texas launch site would also be a signal to the Florida delegation that they cannot take SpaceX for granted.


Written by Astro1 on June 20th, 2012 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags: