Why Do Spaceport Promoters Get the Facts So Wrong?

The Camden Roundtable promotes itself by providing an email summary of each previous Roundtable meeting. After last week’s Roundtable meeting, their email writer penned, “My biggest take-a-way was what Dr. Cruzen called ‘The Camden Advantage’. The latitude of Camden County relative to other potential spaceports gives it a 894-mph advantage! That is why companies will choose Spaceport Camden over many others!”

I didn’t attend Dr. Cruzen’s presentation, but I suspect this expert actually said something much different than what was written, because it’s impossible for Spaceport Camden to have an 894-mph advantage over “other potential spaceports” unless those spaceports are located exactly at the North or South Poles.

I won’t get into the physics but the earth’s spinning provides a boost in effective launch speed when rockets are launched eastward. The closer a launch site is to the equator, the greater the boost. At the North and South Poles, the speed boost is zero. At our latitude, Spaceport Camden would have a speed boost of 892 miles per hour. But Kennedy/Canaveral is faster at 904 mph. Wallops, the other east coast spaceport, has a speed boost of 821 mph, about 70 mph slower than Spaceport Camden. Since rockets must reach at least 17,000 mph to make orbit, 70 mph is practically meaningless.

The speed boost does not assist rocket trajectories to polar or sun-synchronous orbits where over 73% of the 4,857 satellites circling earth are positioned. Spaceport Camden is particularly disadvantaged for launches to those orbits.

I point all of this out because misinformation and confusion have been the hallmark of ever-morphing Spaceport Camden. The spaceport was originally justified because Camden claimed there’s a shortage of existing launch capacity. Yet Kennedy/Canaveral essentially gave away two formerly mothballed launch pads in the past 3 months. They have 12 more they can reopen. Wallops commercial MARS spaceport recently made a deal to add a private launch pad for Rocket Lab. Their two other launch pads have totaled 16 launches since 2006. Space Florida built Kennedy pad LC-39C in 2016 especially for the new breed of small rockets but has never launched a rocket from it. Kodiak received approval from the FAA in 2016 to build a third launch pad but has never had the demand for it and it was not constructed. Shiloh spaceport, which would have had a greater speed boost than Camden, was never built. There’s no shortage of launch pads.

Whether through misunderstanding or misstatement, the Roundtable writer suggests Spaceport Camden has an enviable geographical advantage. The very slight advantage is only over Wallops in the US. But we’re disadvantaged by as much as 14% compared to many existing spaceports that launch eastward. And contrary to the idea that speed boost is necessary, Russia’s newly opened eastward-launching spaceport is located very far north of the equator and Camden County. Speed boost saves fuel, but fuel costs are less than 1% of the total cost of a modern rocket launch so launch location is determined by other factors. For instance, Spaceport Camden will likely have the highest third-party liability insurance costs, maybe even more than the cost of fuel, but spaceport promoters won't mention that disadvantage. No other launch site will be paying an environmental liability insurance policy to cover damages to the Union Carbide landfill.

Spaceport promoters’ hype and grasping at meaningless comparisons are meant to keep public enthusiasm high while they scramble for the next public relations stunt. Taxpayers should be demanding only facts.

There is no "Camden advantage." Spaceport Camden is only “special” in that Camden taxpayers are footing the entire bill with absolutely no hope of recovering our investment. No "private partner" has materialized. Steve Howard and Jimmy Starline have refused to provide a business plan. Our Commissioners act like venture capital investors risking scarce Camden tax dollars in a speculative business in which they have no expertise.

Spaceport Camden does not exist except in the imagination and on the invoices we’re paying to “spaceport experts.”

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