Rocket Report: SpaceX's Super Heavy is lit, court strikes down Georgia spaceport

Rocket Report: SpaceX's Super Heavy is lit, court strikes down Georgia spaceport
Feb 2023

Welcome to Edition 5.25 of the Rocket Report! On Thursday afternoon much of the space world was tuned into South Texas, where SpaceX conducted what appeared to be a successful static-fire test of its Super Heavy rocket. This was a critical step on the pathway to a much-anticipated orbital flight test of Starship this spring. It looks like this is really happening.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Georgia spaceport effort appears doomed. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled Tuesday that Camden County must abide by a March 2022 referendum in which nearly three-quarters of local voters cast ballots against a proposed vertical launch spaceport, the Georgia Recorder reports. Since 2015 the Camden County Board of Commissioners has spent more than $11 million trying to get the project going, which has been opposed by some residents and environmental groups.

Not quite dead yet ... Even after a decisive referendum a year ago against the effort, however, county officials persisted with their plans to build a commercial spaceport. Now, after Tuesday's ruling, the commissioners are evaluating their options, a spokeswoman said. "The future of Spaceport Camden remains a decision of the Camden County Board of Commissioners and as such will be discussed at a future meeting," board spokeswoman Claire Feazel said. The people have spoken. The courts have spoken. Will the commissioners listen? (submitted by zapman987, EllPeaTea, and Ken the Bin)

Is a small launch 'bloodletting' nigh? While demand for small satellite launch is higher than ever, industry officials warned that price pressures and lack of access to capital could cause many companies to go out of business in the near future, Space News reports. Executives with several launch companies said during a panel at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California, Tuesday that they are seeing strong demand for launch services but are struggling to make money, as competition, particularly from SpaceX, drives down prices.

Super saver prices ... SpaceX currently charges $275,000 to launch a 50-kilogram smallsat to Sun-synchronous orbit on its "Transporter" rideshare missions, which take place three or four times a year. This is far less than list prices for many dedicated smallsat launch vehicles. Adam Spice, chief financial officer of Rocket Lab, said: "I think the fact is they've suppressed prices in the market. I think the fact is they've taken a lot of volume off of the market," he said of Transporter missions. "That's a reset that really wasn't there in the model even only a few years ago." (submitted by Ken the Bin)


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Firefly targets May for next launch attempt. The Alpha rocket is due to make its next launch in May 2023 for the US Space Force, Firefly chief executive Bill Weber said Tuesday. The flight from Vandenberg Space Force Base will loft the Tactically Responsive Space-3 satellite into Sun-synchronous orbit, Space News reports. The mission aims to demonstrate a rapid turnaround between a launch order and payload deployment.

This will be Alpha's third launch ... The 1-ton launcher made its first launch attempt in September 2021 but failed to reach orbit as one of the first-stage engines failed during ascent. A second test flight in October 2022 successfully reached orbit, although the satellites were deployed in significantly lower orbits than originally planned. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Launches up, airline travel up. Which will give? Space companies are launching more rockets than ever, and this is increasingly clashing with air space as travelers return to flying in droves, CNBC reports. In the middle stands the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA managed US airspace for a record-breaking 92 space missions in 2022, up 33 percent from the year prior, and it expects to top that this year. That number includes both rocket launches and capsule re-entries and has been steadily climbing.

Turkey Day tug-of-war ... CNBC crunched the data and found that Florida poses the most challenges. Most of last year's missions launched from Florida, and at the same time the Sunshine State has drawn more and more travelers in recent years and faces frequent thunderstorms several months a year. Airlines operated 722,180 flights to, from, and within Florida last year, marking a faster recovery to pre-pandemic flying levels in the state than the national average. This led to clashes, such as when the FAA had to talk NASA out of Artemis I launch attempts around the Thanksgiving holiday.

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