A response to General Dickman
We have a few questions for General Dickman about his Letters supporting Spaceport Camden to the Editors of the Florida Times-Union (" Spaceport Camden launch would be safe and quick") and last week’s the Tribune and Georgian ("Camden Could Offer Sweet Spot For Small Launches".)
General Dickman omitted that he’s a member of the Spaceport Camden Steering Committee. So though he is certainly an expert, are his opinions unbiased? Nowhere does the General explain why Camden taxpayers should take on so many unknown costs and risks for his so-called "sweet spot" spaceport.
He should know more about rocket launches than ordinary citizens, so we suspect he knows that Spaceport promoters created the fiction of “Authorized Persons” because it’s unconstitutional for the FAA, Camden County, and the Coast Guard to interfere with down-range property owners' use of their homes and property.
Authorized Persons was Camden’s attempt to allow private owners and their guests, Cumberland Island campers, and park personnel to remain in hazard zones during rocket launches. At other spaceports, the FAA has never allowed rockets to launch over such locations close to the launch pad. Camden’s highly-paid, spaceport subject matter “experts” relied on Authorized Persons in the Draft EIS, but it was both illegal and immoral, so the FAA shot it down.
General Dickman should know that the Cape’s perfect launch safety record is because his Range Safety Officer was instructed to stop launches when a single boat entered the previously evacuated downrange hazard zones at his spaceport. Launch insurance is becoming increasingly expensive, and Camden will be far riskier than Canaveral, Wallops, Vandenberg, Texas, or Alaska. The US Coast Guard enforced offshore evacuations at Dickman’s Canaveral and will likewise enforce restricted waters at Spaceport Camden. A question for the General: If no one is allowed on a boat in a hazard zone during a launch, how can Camden allow campers, national park staff, private homeowners and their guests to remain directly under the trajectory closer to the launch site than a boat can get?
Was General Dickman making news when he announced that the spaceport would host only to low-value, small rockets? For years, Camden told us it would be the larger rockets that make the headlines. They made a big deal out of being a “finalist” in the single-tier Blue Origin competition. They showed pictures of the ULA Atlas V, the Orbital ATK Antares, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 which are all much, much, much larger than the rockets the General tells us would now launch at Spaceport Camden. They continue to show spaceport plans that are identical to those SpaceX needed for the Falcon Heavy, an even larger rocket. Did their experts truely believe they could launch the rocket described in Camden’s Environmental Impact Statement? That rocket was equivalent to the Falcon 9FT, which is 50 times more powerful than the only FAA-licensed small-class liquid-fueled rocket, the RocketLab Electron. The Electron’s payload capacity is 1/64 as heavy, so the value of the launch will be correspondingly lower. Camden will get far less revenue, but will still have all the costs of closing waterways, land security, and deploying standby emergency fire and rescue personnel. Those costs are incurred multiple times when a launch is canceled or postponed.
Camden's website statements that the spaceport "launches over the Atlantic" and will "provide a nearly unrestricted launch range to a wide range of orbits" are far from the truth. (Source) It's likely the General knows that a single, licensed 100-degree trajectory for small rockets will be hard to monetize for any launch company.
They sold us on the idea that high-value launches like those at Kennedy would be spectacular and create tourism. That will be unlikely for General Dickman’s tiny rockets. We also suspect he knows that new, small commercial rockets from new launch companies have much poorer safety records than those he referenced. In fact, the total record for FAA-licensed small liquid-fueled rockets since 2006 is 9 failures out of 17 launches which includes three failures for the SpaceX Falcon 1 (out of 5 launches); two failures of the Astra (2 launches); three failures of the Exos SARGE (3 launches); and one failure of the RocketLab Electron (7 launches). (Sources: FAA, www.SpaceLaunch Report.com). Despite the General’s claims that the rockets haven’t failed at the critical time that rockets could harm our coastal islands, we are certain that the launch operator had no control of the moment their rockets failed. SpaceX’s recent test in Texas caught the marsh on fire. (Video, read the description)
Furthermore, in his 18-month duty at Cape Canaveral, the General certainly became aware of the toxic chemical messes left by decades of rocket launches and accidents. Several years after his tour at Patrick AFB, NASA estimated it would cost ONE BILLION DOLLARS to clean up launch site contamination. IBTTimes reported, “NASA, which has sent men to the moon and space for decades, may have to shelve its ambitious plans of sending astronauts to further reaches of space beyond the moon - it faces nearly $1 billion in cleanup costs for the deep chemical messes it has left behind at Kennedy Space Center and other launch centers.“ (Details here) The Union Carbide site proposed for Spaceport Camden already has numerous known and possibly unknown hazardous waste areas left from the much-vaunted Thiokol rocket motor test and later pesticide and munitions manufacturing. No one, not even Camden’s “expert” spaceport promoters, knows the risk involved to taxpayers.
So just like Jimmy Starline and Steve Howard, the General doesn't tell us how Spaceport Camden will pay its way. It’s doubtful that the millions already spent chasing the elusive spaceport license will ever benefit taxpayers. The Department of Defense and Alaska subsidize Kodiak. Virginia and NASA subsidize Wallops. Since the revenue from ULA and SpaceX was a tiny fraction of the cost, the Air Force paid the bills at Cape Canaveral. NASA’s 2019 budget of $2.3 Billion for Kennedy Space Center is paid by all US taxpayers while the State of Florida kicks-in millions every year, too. We’d have been better off had the spaceport millions been used for new ambulances, paving dirt roads, or direct new industry incentives.
Unless Spaceport Camden promoters can answer the hard questions about safety, liability, risks, and economics, they've been spoofing us on the benefits and risks of buying the contaminated Union Carbide property and turning it into a “world-class” spaceport. Carefully selected or misrepresented data used as sales’ pitches won’t cut it in the face of real facts --- irrespective of the size of the rockets licensed to launch from Spaceport Camden.