At 5:37 pm Wednesday, a SpaceX prototype rocket blew its top at Boca Chica Spaceport.
The linked video is very impressive.
At :11 to :21 seconds the 30-foot diameter pressure vessel bulkhead disappear above 1,000 feet. It appears to crash on the nearby State Wildlife Refuge.
Why is this accident relevant to Camden County taxpayers?
In 2014, the FAA granted SpaceX a Record of Decision, allowing them to build and test rockets from a launch site that is too close to Boca Chica, Texas. Folks live about two miles behind the launch pad. Because risks have turned out to be much greater than the FAA Environmental Impact Statement expected, SpaceX has had to pay huge insurance premiums and has resorted to trying to buy-out the entire community. Failing that, they can fall back on the Cameron County spaceport authority to use eminent domain to force people from their homes. The Georgia legislature wisely withheld eminent domain privilege from the Camden County Spaceport Authority because it is against our state constitution to use eminent domain for commercial benefits.
SpaceX chose not to apply for a Launch Site Operators License for Boca Chica but rather to use the site as a “skunkworks” to test new designs. Steve Howard has recently been presenting Spaceport Camden not so much as a launch site, but rather as an industrial park. Launch Site Operators License not required. Just like SpaceX has been using Boca Chica.
In October, a SpaceX test set the adjacent Texas Wildlife Refuge and marsh on fire:
And during a test today, at 5:37 pm, SpaceX blew the top off the cryogenic tank of the new Starship 1 rocket SpaceX planned to test launch to 20km next month. No Launch Site Operators License required. The rocket appears to be severely damaged and appears to be a total loss. But SpaceX had a backup plan. They are simultaneously building Starships 2 and 3 at Kennedy Space Center. The plan was that those much larger rockets could launch a Kennedy since they did not fit within the scope of the FAA original 2014 Boca Chica approvals or even with the expanded scope of recent re-evaluations.
Elon Musk announced today after the explosion that he was moving on to Starship 3 at Kennedy, which makes Boca Chica’s future uncertain after they clean up the Starship 1 mess. SpaceX had built Starhopper and Starship 1 mostly under a big tent. So they actually don’t have much invested at Boca Chica, yet.
Even if they had built the spaceport, the FAA Record of Decision for Boca Chica included this statement about the economic benefits: “Construction of the vertical launch and control center areas is anticipated to have temporary impacts on the regional economy; however, these would be short-term (approximately 24 months) and would not result in significant beneficial impacts to the economy.”
Spaceport Camden is far more environmentally sensitive and risky than Boca Chica. There have been 11 US rocket explosions since our Commissioners and Steve Howard put us on this dead-end odyssey.
Is this the type of “investment” that Camden taxpayers should be making?
PS: Previous posts in this blog discuss earlier explosions.