A summary of the the Economic Impact Study (EIS) on the Spaceport Camden project on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, by the Camden County Board of Commissioners and the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development (BBRED) at Georgia Southern University. The study’s summary is considered a conservative outlook to the overall impact on the area.
According to the study’s summary, $22.51 million dollars, annually, is expected to generate revenue for the local economy. The EIS states that the “Spaceport Camden project will have a significant economic impact upon Coastal Georgia. This facility will be used to launch and retrieve rockets used as part of the growing private space flight industry. Private space flight is being used to deliver new satellites to low earth orbits, ferry supplies to the International Space Station, and increase overall access to space.”
Jon Simpson, spokesperson for Spaceport Camden, said that the study assumes that the site as a launching pad from a variety of rocket vendors. The small rocket industry is looking for accessible areas to launch payloads into specific altitudes and orbits for data collection from a variety of companies. On August 3rd, Vector Space Systems launched a small low altitude rocket in Camden County.
The initial impact is expected to bring about 190 jobs to the area over a 15-month period. This number includes both construction of the Spaceport facilities and continued operations with an overall impact of contributing $20 million a year after completion as a launching pad facility. The EIS did not include long-term impact studies over the 15th month period.
This initial economic impact is based on a given construction time-frame of 15 months for Spaceport Camden and associated infrastructure. Construction impact includes $7.21 million in direct revenue which grows to $9.23 million as these direct revenues move through the economy.
These estimates are based on Camden County’s employment figures in the Environmental Impact Statement currently under review by the FAA which is to be completed by the end of this year. These initial estimates do not include the effect of employment and direct investment additional space companies may bring Camden County such as manufacturing.
Other industry that is expected to be affected by the $20 million yearly impact is tourism. In 2015, the Camden County domestic travel market accounted for $90.32 million in expenditures with an employment impact of 777 jobs. Since 2011, expenditures have increased by 15 percent with associated employment increasing by 5 percent.
According to the Summary of the EIS, Spaceport Camden is expected to add to the increasing numbers on tourism stays in the area; however, those numbers are being compared to space flight numbers gathered at Cape Canaveral, Florida (40,000 visitors), where larger rockets are launched. However, the report’s findings suggest that other launches around the country see an influx of 10,000 to 15,000 visitors staying at local hotels for about 2-3 days on average.
“Across the United States rocket launches have become another opportunity to showcase the host community and are a good way to attract new visitors,” said Benjamin McKay Research Specialist with BBRED. “This analysis illustrates that by adding a Spaceport in Camden County, existing industries also stand to benefit from these investments,” added McKay.
The study suggests other space related industry is likely to come to the area adding to the current projections of $20 million. The EIS report only studied the economic activity generated by Spaceport Camden’s filings with the FAA.
The report assumes that if a company like Vector Space Systems were to invest $100 million of an assembly plant, 200 jobs could potentially be created. Vector Space Systems is expected to open their manufacturing plant in Arizona next year. With the passage of the Georgia Spaceflight Act (HB1), such industries may find Georgia more attractive to conduct operations.
“When we started the process, we knew we had something special,” said County Administrator Steve Howard. “Even the most conservative estimates of Spaceport Camden’s potential shows tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and more than 100 new jobs,” added Howard.
Overall, the Spaceport Camden project is expected to cost the county over $5 million with most of the money going toward the completion of the Environmental Impact Study to obtain an operating license along with land related expenses and public relations.
Camden County’s workforce from the SUBASE which work and operate large missiles and have the needed skills to assist with the space flight industry. Similarly, nuclear-powered warships have docked near Cape Canaveral without incident and Camden Spaceport should consider a similar agreement to attract skilled workers, according to the Summary of the study.
Opponent of the Spaceport Project responds to study’s summary. Below is a full response to the summary of the study by Camden citizen, Steve Winkle.
The Camden spaceport Economic Assessment Summary is little more than a continuation of spaceport promotion and hype presented without any substance. The so-called Summary is useless because it does not provide necessary facts or data regarding the assumptions used to make their claims, therefore it cannot be evaluated or vetted for accuracy or the current or future state of the spaceport industry. It most certainly does not account for the actual performance failures of all other spaceports to become self-supporting. The Summary makes some statements and unsupportable claims that are very odd for a research document.
As an example, Virginia’s MARS Spaceport, has been in operation since 2005 and has launched a total of 9 rockets between 2012 and 2016. MARS Spaceport generated net operating LOSSES in 2015 of $14 million and in 2016 of $17 million for a total LOSS of $31 million the past two years alone. All losses are at the expense of Virginia taxpayers. Alaska’s Kodiak Spaceport has likewise required millions of dollars in annual subsidies from taxpayers despite having Department of Defense contracts that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. As you know, Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg are subsidized by all US taxpayers. Other than from Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg Air Force Base, a total of only commercial 11 rockets have been launched from commercial US spaceports in the past 5 years. Despite these facts, Camden’s so-called Study assumes that its spaceport will generate $16 million a year in positive revenue from 12 launches. Since a medium-lift rocket launch at MARS costs $600,000 (documented from the Virginia Commercial Space Authority 2016 Audit), the greatest revenue that Camden could competitively produce would be $7.2 million if they launch more rockets per year than MARS and Kodiak have launched in total over the past 5 years.
Additionally, Spaceport Camden will not be able to compete with MARS since the indicated investment of $9 million will not provide the same facilities that are available at MARS. Virginia taxpayers have invested in capital assets that total $108 million (net of depreciation.) It cost Virginia $15 million alone just to repair the damage to its launch pad when a rocket exploded in 2014 just after it left the pad. Kodiak has invested more than $110 million and has launched 2 rockets since 2012. SpaceX is investing $100 million in their Texas spaceport that was the model for the specifications that Camden originally showed the public for their spaceport.
One can only assume that Camden’s officials’ expectations have shrunken since December 7, 2015, because they are not investing enough to compete with the existing, greatly underutilized spaceports. If the market Camden officials are now targeting is for small launch vehicles like those represented by Vector Space’s amateur rocket launch on August 3rd, they are counting on a market that does not yet exist that requires rockets that do not yet exist. There is extensive study on the economics of small launch rockets showing that costs per pound for satellite launches on small rockets will be at least 5 times more expensive than on existing rockets that can never launch from Camden County (documentation is available) so the underlying concept of that future industry is highly speculative. What do Camden officials do with a purpose-built spaceport when there is no purpose for it to serve?
Additionally, there is no safety history for these rockets that are still in development. MARS shares an ocean-front launch safety range with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility whereas Camden will launch over Cumberland Island National Seashore and private residences. Kennedy, Canaveral, Vandenberg, and Kodiak are also ocean-fronting and will have lower insurance costs than Camden.
Although this statement from the Summary is factually correct, it is absurdly misleading:
“Vector Space Systems a maker of microsatellites, has already expressed interest in developing a rocket launch and assembly plant which could bring up to $100 million in investment and 200 jobs”
True, except that Vector has announced the factory will be built in Tuscon, Arizona, not Camden County:
Vector confirmed the same in this press release issued minutes after their Camden test launch:
Clearly, the Spaceport Camden Summary implies that Vector will build a factory in Georgia. The Study’s statement will lead most observers to the wrong conclusion. It is purely misleading when used in the context of spaceport benefits to Georgia or Camden County.
The Study’s assumption that Kings Bay retirees will be hired by a Camden launch company is a far stretch. Navy missiles are solid-fueled rockets so that they can be launched on a moments’ notice to defend the United States. They are not used by commercial launch companies who require rocket engines that, unlike solid-fueled motors, can be throttled, stopped and restarted. Liquid-fueled commercial rockets are an altogether different technology and require completely different handling. Workers who have liquid-fueled rocket experience will get whatever jobs are offered. And substantively, submarine-launched missiles do not travel to orbit so there is no orbital experience on a submarine.
The “12 Georgia space companies” are mostly not identified in the Study so it is unknown if their technology is compatible with the budget spaceport that Camden officials propose. For instance, Atlanta’s Generation Orbit committed to testing at Jacksonville’s Cecil Spaceport because their technology requires runways, not launch pads. Oddly, Masten Space which is mentioned in the Summary appears to be located in a 4-bedroom/4 bath house in Kennesaw. No such company is registered with the Office of the Georgia Secretary of State. Masten Space really operates in Mojave, California. The owner of the home is Michael Mealling who was a co-founder but appears to be no longer identified with Masten. In any case, Masten’s latest rocket test crashed after gaining only 10 feet altitude; they currently have a tiny staff and no job openings: http://masten.aero/careers-2/
Virtually every claim of the so-called Camden Spaceport Study fails to acknowledge the actual failed economic predictions at every one of the existing non-NASA spaceports, or the competition that they represent to Camden. Additionally, County Administrator and Spaceport Project Manager Steve Howard must possess secret solutions to spaceport solvency that have evaded existing spaceport managers since 1999. It is hard to believe that Camden officials remain committed to a project that entails so much risk to taxpayers.
A comprehensive report on Camden’s Study will be forthcoming at www.spaceportfacts.org.