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Camden's Space Tourism Fantasy

Spaceport Camden has ramped-up the Space Industry BS-factor.

Camden County just promoted a report, based entirely on speculation, about the prospects of tourism related to Spaceport Camden.

First, consider the source of Camden's report:

Ben McKay, the Assistant Director of Research at Georgia Southern University, is quoted in the press release.

McKay's boss is Dominique Halaby, Director of Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group and is involved with the spaceport.

Halaby lists in his bio that he is on the Spaceport Camden Education Subcommittee.

The original Spaceport Economic Summary originated from a GSU program called BBRED that appears to have been replaced by CBAER. BBRED seems to have disappeared from the GSU lexicon.

Then, there's the messy facts.

The 8/22/2017 BBRED “Spaceport Camden Economic Summary” was proven to be pure speculation. We obtained copies of the 8 or 10 preliminary “analyses” that were run trying to develop an impressive economic benefit number for the final report. Of the $22 million “economic benefit” they derived, the majority (more than $16 million) came from “scientific research.”

The BBRED/CBAER method used relies entirely on speculation about performance that is extrapolated from federal data sets. As stated in the BBRED/CBAER report, the IMPLAN method “synthesizes the information and develops appropriate equations to make the model function. In addition, IMPLAN fills in any gaps in these data using methods consistent with the common theory in this area.” In other words, it’s ‘scientifically-derived speculation.’

An interesting characterization of these projections is that IMPLAN and BBRED/CBAER do not wait ten years and then study if their predictions are realized. The best spaceport examples of the methods of predictive economic behavior are for Kodiak and Spaceport America, where the performance predictions are off by 90% after decades of promises and investments. As recently reported, Virginia and New Mexico each have over $250 million “invested” in their spaceport.

The first tell is in an opening paragraph: “Within the visitor segment, tourists who are willing to travel to watch a launch typically fall into two different market segments. First is the Space Enthusiasts’ market, which includes 10.8 percent of the U.S. population.” This information was provided by Space Florida. It is possible that when asked if they would travel to watch a rocket launch, many people might say yes, but do they travel for space launches other than to the WallyWorld of space entertainment at Kennedy Space Center/Canaveral/Disney World? For instance, how many people do you know have traveled the 166 miles to KSC to watch a launch?

BBRED/CBAER found only one specific reference to estimated visitor participation at a space launch. The July 2013 LADEE launch from Wallops was also a special case NASA mission costing $280,000,000. The Minotaur 5-stage solid-fuel rocket sent a satellite to a lunar orbital mission that was eventually crashed to the moon’s surface. The rocket had 490,000 lbs. thrust vs. the 29,000 lbs. thrust rocket used for Camden’s revised license application. Does anyone remember the Vector Launch?

This is the quote from a local news story about the LADEE launch:

“NASA estimates some 14,000 people viewed the LADEE launch, including 1,400 invited guests, 70 journalists and 50 social media users chosen from hundreds who applied for media credentials.”

And, “The NASA Visitor Center had 2,080 visitors that day, more than it had in the entire month of September in recent years.”

That’s it. This is what BRRED built their entire theory upon:

“This launch was one of the few with actual visitor figures reported. Building on this information, the Brownsville Economic Development Council noted that it expects about 15,000 visitors per launch. This area is home to the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site, which is being built to both launch and test rockets. It is owned and operated by SpaceX. Based on these examples, our team assumed that 14,000 visitors would view each launch.”

Importantly, Wallops has six cities with populations over 200,000 each within a 2-1/2 hour drive, including Washington, DC., Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Norfolk. Spaceport Camden has Jacksonville.

The BBRED/CBAER research team missed essential data. For instance, the BBRED/CBAER document states, “The research team found one example from the federal Missile Defense Agency, which needed to house 210 people near the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska to manage test launches.”

Somehow they missed, or didn’t report, that wannabe commercial space company Astra Space requires only SIX personnel to travel to the same Alaska Spaceport for a small rocket launch attempt.

All this points to several prime fallacies with the BBRED/CBAER document:

  • No one documents spaceport visitor counts except where folks pay an admission.

  • No one knows how many launch visitors are day-visitors who pack their lunch.

  • The primary viewing locations for launches from SPC will be from Glynn County (Jekyll Island, Jekyll Causeway, Sidney Lanier Bridge, and approaches) and Dover Bluff, all of which are closer to the spaceport than Crooked River State Park or other possible Camden locations that could handle “thousands.”

  • Small rockets do not rattle-the-earth like those that people are willing to travel to witness. Keep in mind that launches are unpredictable, sometimes occurring after multiple delays with the spectacle over in less than two minutes. There’s not much bang for the buck with small rockets. Take a look at the Chincoteague and Accomack tourism pages to see how little rocket launches are emphasized. Nobody is building a hotel for launch visitors.

  • “This time of year, the vast majority of hotel guests, ‘probably 85 to 90 percent,’ are there for work related to NASA or other Wallops agencies,” Derrickson said.

But what is most surprising is that the BBRED/CBAER study IGNORES the actual statistics about the lack of economic development in the Wallops (Accomack county) vicinity.

This is from US Census Data as reported by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission:

“The County is primarily an agricultural community with the largest two employers in the County being the Tyson Farms and Perdue Products poultry processing facilities, these two employ approximately one quarter of the jobs in Accomack County. “

“[Accomack] County has seen a steadily declining business presence over the last five years, and the total civilian employed population has also declined respectively.”

The NASA/Wallops Facility and Spaceport have existed for 76 years, yet here’s the U.S. Census FACTS comparing Camden County and Accomack County:

The Wallops/Spaceport region:

  • Has lost population.

  • Fewer young people stay.

  • Household incomes are smaller.

  • Folks have less money to spend.

  • Health care and social assistance costs are higher per capita.

  • A higher percentage live in poverty.

The BBRED/CBAER-generated outcomes are unverifiable and are unrelated to experience at other spaceports.

Most readers of the BBRED/CBAER report will not read this revealing statement in the RESULTS section:

"The analysis found the potential economic impact of launching rockets from Spaceport Camden could add economic value to the current tourism industry in Camden County. These impacts should be viewed as support for existing jobs rather than overall additions to the Camden market because it is unlikely that businesses would hire new employees for a one-off event."

And in the BBRED/CBAER report appendices: "Overall, the potential economic impact linked to the prospective amount of visitors coming to Spaceport Camden is substantial. The impacts noted in this analysis will change as more primary data are collected and as the parameters of the launches are more clearly defined by the users of Spaceport Camden. These potential impacts, along with the information provided in this analysis, highlight that other spaceports are also expecting and experiencing some visitor activity."

Both of the statements above tell a story remarkably different from the Camden Press Release headline.

Their whole article is speculative "forecasting."

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