SpaceX just completed the previously delayed and aborted Starhopper test at their Boca Chica text site. Although the test ignited a few grass fires, Boca Chica residents and their homes are safe. The issue is not whether SpaceX or any launch company can eventually get it right. The question is how much financial and safety risk must the public absorb on behalf of a commercial rocket launch company and the promise of a few jobs?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reviewed SpaceX’s recent problems with fires at their Boca Chica launch site. Those recent incidents indicated that SpaceX’s activities there are far more dangerous than they originally expected. SpaceX sought a 656-foot maximum altitude for the test. After performing a hazard analysis for the proposed launch, the FAA only allowed 492-feet.
And unbelievably, the FAA raised the third-party liability insurance requirement for the flight from $3 million to $100 million.
Read the entire FAA Permit for today’s Starhopper launch, and especially the very last line of the Permit.
The insurance cost increased because the FAA performed risk calculations identifying a risk envelop sufficiently large enough to harm non-involved public like those living behind the launch site in Boca Chica. Possibly, the revised risk zone extended to homes 5 miles to the north and northwest on South Padre Island and at Port Isabel. The larger risk area also includes green-outlined areas which are Texas public parks and US Fish and Wildlife Refuges. Marine transportation in and out of the Port Isabel Channel may also be impacted.
The risks recognized by the FAA at Boca Chica prove why Spaceport Camden is too dangerous as a rocket launch site.
Instead of launching at Boca Chica (and all other spaceports) in front of private homes, rockets from Spaceport Camden will launch OVER them.
Instead of launching at Boca Chica (and all other spaceports) near public parks and wildlife areas, rockets from Spaceport Camden will launch OVER them.
Instead of launching at Boca Chica (and all other spaceports) on a trajectory where no people live, work, or play, rockets from Spaceport Camden will launch OVER them.
SpaceX can afford the cost of a $100 million liability policy for a rocket test that goes up 492 feet. They’re rich enough with government contracts to have deposited a cash bond for the $100 million. The startup rocket companies Steve Howard and Jimmy Starline envision using Spaceport Camden have no successful launches, even to 492 feet. They are not billion-dollar companies with deep pockets and proven rockets. Even if Camden never allows experimental launches, there are no small rocket companies with proven safety records knocking at Steve Howard's office.
Is it realistic to think that if they develop a launchable rocket, they will justify launching at Spaceport Camden where the insurance will be significantly more expensive than at any other spaceport?
A worse-case will be if Camden allows experimental testing (a “skunkworks”) at the Union Carbide site irrespective of whether a spaceport site license is awarded. SpaceX pulled it off today, but on other days they've had explosions.
Since the County Commissioners have pursued buying the Union Carbide property without so much as a reality-based spaceport business plan, how can they justify spending even one dollar more?