A Little History Worth Knowing
NASA and CUMBERLAND ISLAND?
In June 1961 the NASA Office of Space Flight Programs recommended that the construction of a new NASA launch site be given a high national priority. The NASA Launch Operations Directorate based at Cape Canaveral and the Air Force Missile Test Center were given the responsibility of agreeing on a launch site. NASA reviewed the following possible launch sites: Merritt Island, Man-Made Facilities Offshore Cape Canaveral; Mayaguana Island; Bahamas; Cumberland Island; Georgia; Mainland Site near Brownsville, Texas (now the site of SpaceX Boca Chica); White Sands Missile Range; New Mexico; Christmas Island, South Pacific; and South Point, Island Of Hawaii.
Cumberland Island was rejected due to unacceptable interference with the Intracoastal Waterway, a lack of infrastructure, and to the north, were expensive island resorts. Eventually, the advantages of the Canaveral area were overwhelming. It lay at the head of the Atlantic Missile Range, a series of tracking stations that reached southeastward almost 9,000 kilometers to Ascension Island (with further extensions under way for the Mercury program). Its trained personnel had launched many missiles. No big cities stood in danger from accidental explosions or wandering missiles. The noise would not disturb a large civilian population. Like Cumberland, all of the other sites were rejected, and Kennedy Space Center was born.
GOVERNMENT FINANCED, EVEN TODAY
Exploring Space is a place for big ideas. Since Alan Sheppard became America’s First Man in Space in May, 1961, through the incredible Moon Landings, and the Space Shuttle program, the US Space program has been almost entirely a government-sponsored, government-directed enterprise. Large industrial companies like ULA (Boeing and Lockeed) provided the medium-lift rockets that have powered satellites and men into orbit.
The Space Shuttle was the first reusable system, but was extremely complicated and required many months of refitting each Shuttle before being relaunched; it is said that each Shuttle launch cost taxpayers upwards of $1 billion. The focus today is on reusable rockets with fast turn-around, but the expertise to accomplish this is still experimental so cheaper expendable rockets like the ULA Vulcan are also under development. As NASA’s mission has been expanded to include climate change and a focus on the Orion Deep Space program, the more routine missions like resupply of the International Space Station and launches of communication satellites are being transferred to private companies.
Not all of these companies are NewSpace companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. United Launch Alliance (a 50-50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company) makes the Atlas and Delta rockets, and the new, low cost Vulcan which is designed to compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin. Even Thiokol continues its existence through its descendent company Orbital ATK, the maker of the Antares medium lift rocket. Blue Origin has signed an agreement with ULA to expand the production capabilities of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine, which is planned for use on the new Vulcan rocket. Excitement surrounds SpaceX because it is the first US private company to emerge successfully as a replacement supplier for government launch capabilities. But SpaceX is still heavily dependent on US Government contracts for development costs of their vehicles.
FOREIGN SPACE COMPANIES
The focus of our study are US space companies because we are interested in the potential for Spaceport Camden. Spaceport supporters often site total Global Market Jobs and Dollars, but those include Russian, French and European Union, Japanese, Singapore, Israeli, Australian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and all other countries developing aerospace. It is unlikely that Camden will land a Russian or Indian space company so using global figures to represent potential is quite misleading.
Direct foreign competition for space launches is keen with advanced suppliers like Arianespace, which supplies the Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega rockets, and has launched 500+ satellites (including for US companies) from Guiana Space Center located on the South American coast near the equator.
The BUSINESS MODEL CHANGES
When Kennedy Space Center was exclusively allocated for government launches, it was reasonable to see a potential for private spaceports elsewhere. That is why California, Virginia and Alaska developed their State supported spaceports. However, the demand has been slight for existing capacity at these existing sites. Then, on November 1, 2013 KSC was approved for commercial launches from Pads 39A and 39B, the former Apollo launch sites. (READ MORE) A huge increase in capacity was created. In the past, Kennedy/Canaveral has supported 20 or more launches per year. SpaceX leased Pad 39A and has also claimed Pad 13 for landings. (READ MORE) ULA is reconfiguring Pad 41 for the CST-100 Starliner, while Sierra Nevada will launch on Atlas rockets from the same pad. (READ MORE) In September, 2015 the game changed again when Jeff Bezos, President of Amazon, announced that he had signed a deal where “Blue Origin would use Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 36 to take paying passengers to space and to compete for ISS supply missions by the end of the decade.” (READ MORE) Most recently, Orbital signed a new 8 year deal to resupply the ISS from Kennedy and MARS/Wallops. (READ MORE)
With the new business model including SpaceX, ULA and Blue Origin at Kennedy/Canaveral; SpaceX constructing their private spaceport at Boca Chica; and Orbital anchoring MARS and launching from Kennedy/Canaveral, chances for a major customer with capabilities fitting the plans for Spaceport Camden were drastically reduced.