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It Doesn't Take a Spaceport to Be in the Rocket Business

In Iuka, a small Mississippi town with 3,059 residents, a group of 170 scientists and engineers recently gathered to discuss their next project: building large aerospace composite structures for Northrop Grumman’s new OmegA rocket. OmegA is being designed to launch the U.S. Air Force’s most critical spacecraft for U.S. national security missions.

Outside of the work at Iuka (no spaceport), the OmegA is being produced completely on American soil. The program is headquartered at Northrop Grumman’s Chandler (no spaceport), Arizona, facility, where they construct the rocket’s thermal protection, flight systems and avionics. Northrop Grumman builds the first and second stage motors in Promontory (no spaceport), Utah, and the strap on boosters in Magna (no spaceport), Utah. The cryostage is built in Michoud (no spaceport), Louisiana, and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s West Palm (no spaceport), Florida, facility supplies the upper-stage RL-10 engine. OmegA’s launches will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, each a long haul from the factories.

Camden politicians have spent almost $6 million chasing a spaceport license instead of the real jobs in the space industry. If the spaceport is all about keeping Camden's Navy missile experts from migrating away or is to stimulate advanced science studies for our kids, it entirely misses the point. Just like Northrop, the rockets that will be launched at Camden will be designed and built elsewhere. The startup rocket companies that spaceport promotors showcase are all established elsewhere and all have stated they'll trailer their rockets to any spaceport that suits their needs. So just how many science and technology jobs will 12 launch events a year support for mobile rockets that are built out west?

The problem with Spaceport Camden is that Steve Howard and Jimmy Starline have put all our economic development eggs in the spaceport basket. Among all of my concerns about spaceport, the economics issues stand tallest.

The proof is well-established. No rocket spaceport generates enough revenue to pay all its bills. All other rocket spaceports require subsidies from Federal, state and local governments ultimately paid by taxpayers. These have continued for 20 years at Kodiak, totaled $18,000,000 last year, and the year before, for Wallops, and required more than $30 million just to start at Boca Chica. SpaceFlorida takes $20 million a year from Florida taxpayers and Kennedy requires $2.2 BILLION a year from the NASA budget. Steve Howard has never disclosed his knowledge of the secrets to spaceport economic success that have evaded all other spaceports. If he gets his spaceport, and he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat, we can expect our taxes to go up and up.

No matter what the spaceport benefits might be, can taxpayers afford them?

Now here’s something to think about. Kings Bay supports about 8,882 jobs. 6,600 are held by Camden residents. Kennedy Space Center’s workforce is 8,824 jobs. Camden politicians can’t see the forest for the trees. We should leverage what we’ve got.

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