CRS-9 pushed back two days; Port Canaveral mulls new wharfage fees
The next launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been pushed back by two days to July 18. The mission is set to launch the next Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS). Also this week, Port Canaveral recently proposed a new wharfage fee for large aerospace item moving across the Canaveral docks.
Scheduled to rise spaceward at 12:45 a.m. EDT (4:45 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40, a Dragon capsule will carry much-needed equipment to the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX’s ninth mission under the Commercial Resupply Services contract, CRS-9, will carry nearly 4,900 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of science research, food, and more.
The most prominent piece of hardware will be the second International Docking Adapter (IDA-2). The first was destroyed a year ago when CRS-7 suffered an in-flight mishap and exploded just over two minutes into the -flight, destroying the rocket and ultimately the Dragon capsule.
IDA-2 will be the first of two new docking rings attached to the existing Pressurized Mating Adapters to allow for future commercial crew vehicles to dock to the ISS.
During the CRS-9 launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket will attempt to return to the launch site and land. Much like the OG2 mission back in December 2015, the stage will try to touch down at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1)—formerly known as Space Launch Complex 13.
For lower energy orbits, such as a low-Earth orbit, the Falcon 9 is expected to have enough leftover fuel to be able to accomplish a boost-back burn and return to the launch area. However, that is only part of the NewSpace companies plans as much of the companies launches have to go faster—to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Mission to GTO are going much faster, and, therefore, do not have enough fuel to return to land. That’s where the company’s Automated Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) comes in. This mobile platform is taken hundreds of miles out to sea to act as a mid-ocean platform for the booster to land. Only mastering both of the techniques will SpaceX be able to recover their rockets in all mission profiles.
Since the first successful landing—on land—in December, the company has successfully landed at sea on the drone ship three times. The most recent drone ship attempt—the June 16 launch of Eutelsat 117 and ABS-2A—failed to touch down at a safe velocity, causing a “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly” as the company founder and CEO, Elon Musk, tweeted. The payload, however, was successfully orbited.
As these drone ship landings are becoming more common, Port Canaveral, the place that the boosters are returned and offloaded, is considering charging the NewSpace company $15,000 every time a booster comes back from the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Florida Today, this new wharfage charge of $500 a ton or $15,000 per item—whichever is greater—would be for all aerospace and aircraft items. The Port staff understands, however, the first company to be affected by this potential charge would be SpaceX.
“We view their cargo passing over our dock just like any other cargo passing our dock,” Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said in the Florida Today report, “We’re not looking at this as an adversarial relationship. It’s no different than anything else coming across the dock. You have to pay for use of port facilities. That’s how a port makes money.”
SpaceX, however, was upset with the proposal. John Taylor, a spokesman for SpaceX, told Florida Today that the proposed fee is 14 times higher than what any other business are being charged for usage of port facilities.
“Port Canaveral is an important partner in our recovery operations,” Taylor said. “But we expect fees to be fair and reflect our actual use of the port.”
The Canaveral Port Authority had planned to discuss the new fee on Wednesday, June 23; however, Murray pulled the item from the agenda.
In a follow-up report in Florida Today, Murray said the Port has a good relationship with SpaceX and there was no need to consider the item on Wednesday. He said that he was confident the port and the NewSpace firm could work out their differences on the proposed fee and “come up with an amicable resolution for everyone.”
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.