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SpaceX Goes BOOM (again) at Boca Chica

SpaceX learns by blowing things up. In the 4th major event in less than a year, SpaceX suffered another explosive failed test at Boca Chica on Friday night.

Link to the Full Video and story:

This is not what County Commissioners promised us when they courted SpaceX to come to Camden County instead of building their spaceport beachside in Texas. SpaceX was clearly on Steve Howard's mind because the Draft EIS was full of plans that looked just like SpaceX's EIS application to the FAA. We've paid millions to consultants to try to get the FAA to approve Camden's rocket that mimics SpaceX specifications for the medium-large lift Falcon 9FT rocket. SpaceX must have been confused by Camden latching onto their plans.

The FAA approved the EIS and issued a Record of Decision for Boca Chica Spaceport in 2014. By the time SpaceX figured out they had plenty of launch capacity at Kennedy/Canaveral and Vandenberg, they decided to use the Texas site for experimental rocket development. The risks associated with unproven technology have required huge increases in Congressionally-mandated Maximum Probable Loss insurance (most recently from $3 million to $100 million.)

The Boca Chica "skunkworks" models the methods used by Lockheed to develop advanced fighter jets and the U-2 and A-12 spy planes. Lockheed's setup reminded people of Al Capp's L'il Abner comic strip, and the "Skonk Works," a dilapidated factory on the remote outskirts of Capp's fictional backwoods town, Dogpatch. In Capp's comics, scores of Dogpatch locals were done in every year by the toxic fumes of concentrated "skonk oil," which was brewed and barreled daily by grinding dead skunks and worn shoes into a constantly smoldering still.

Boca Chica operations haven't done in anyone yet, but it's operations are far more dangerous than those publicly discussed in the FAA-approved EIS and FAA Record of Decision. A pristine beachfront retirement community has been turned into an experimental rocket development site that's ignited a 100-acre marsh fire, a couple of major explosive events like last night's, and forced residents to sell-out under threat of eminent domain seizure of their property. The FAA Record of Decision said that folks might have to wear hearing protectors, but never that protecting their lives would require selling their homes. Skunkworks is an apt name for SpaceX's dirty, dangerous business in Boca Chica.

There's no telling how Jimmy Starline and Steve Howard rationalized in 2015 that yet another new spaceport was needed, but they plowed ahead. Imagine the economic and environmental damage that could have occurred in Camden had we 'won' SpaceX's skunkworks.

And the icing on the cake is that Boca Chica's SpaceX economic boom (pun intended) is only temporary.

In January 2019, SpaceX canceled a planned lease on a portside factory in Long Beach, California, and setup Starship construction at Boca Chica. They also opened a Canaveral site but soon realized it was too risky and closed it two months ago. SpaceX shipped all equipment and parts to Boca Chica where they built temporary tent-factories to house operations. At the same time, SpaceX recontacted the Port of Long Beach, California, to reopen lease negotiations "after encountering complications" with its plan to build the vehicles in Boca Chica and Canaveral. The recently approved lease required $44.8 million in local incentives and anchored the long term jobs in California. The dirty, explosive work stays in Boca Chica. Fortunately, Starline and Howard failed in 2015 so we dodged that bullet.

It turns out that there was plenty of room at existing spaceports in 2015 for all sizes of rockets. Kennedy/Canaveral counts five launch pads for small rockets if needed. Wallops has two, and Vandenberg has multiple. And only two rockets exist that can use them all. Rocket Lab's Electron has a total of 11 launches (all launches have occurred from their private spaceport in New Zealand) while Astra Space's Rocket has had both of its launches blow up over Kodiak Alaska's spaceport.

Astra's Kodiak "launchpad" consists of a small concrete pad at the farthest corner of the spaceport since there's a 72% to 100% chance the rocket will explode. There is no permanent infrastructure other than a shed building. The rocket was shipped to Alaska in a container. Launch control and the permanent jobs remain in California. There's no economic model supporting our so-called investment in a spaceport for these rockets.

Jimmy Starline and the other Commissioners should compel Spaceport Project Lead Steve Howard to defend continued spending on Spaceport Camden at the scheduled March 20th Debate. They owe it to taxpayers before they pay another spaceport bill.

I will be there with plenty of facts opposing spending even if they decide to continue their customary secrecy.

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