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12 October 2012

Texas Launch Facility

SpaceX launch facility in Texas? Not yet, but...

The dazzlingly successful start up aerospace company, SpaceX, has been more than just eying the southern tip of Texas for a new launch facility-- they have been buying land there.

What little is being reported on this venture often misses some important points.

First, launching to orbit requires tremendous energy, and the rotation of the Earth, spinning on its own axis, is a tremendous free source of energy. The closer to the equator, the easier it is to place an object in orbit if you launch toward the East-- in the direction of the Earth's spin.

That limits the locations of possible launch facilities within the continental US to South Florida and South Texas.

Because of the possibility of the need to self-destruct a launch if a rocket motor fails, it is also important to have an unpopulated region east of the launch site-- preferably ocean. This is why NASA placed the original orbital launches at the Cape. South Texas has the same or better advantages with the Gulf Coast and a slightly more southerly location (by about three degrees).

Second, the environmental impact mentioned as the chief, perhaps ONLY, stumbling block deals with local wildlife. That the beach area within yards of the proposed launch complex is a nesting ground for the endangered Sea Turtles is a fact. Whether that would impact egg-laying or egg-hatching is hard to determine.  My guess is that turtles do not care anymore than they do about a thunderstorm.

What is not mentioned is where these endangered turtles nest. They nest on every sandy beach on the planet. Any sandy beach is used. A mile or so of Texas beach is not going to make dent in the reproductive abilities of the turtles.  I love those turtles.  No, I do not eat them, although I do hear they taste a lot like California Condors; but when I body surf or snorkel along the coast, I often delight in finding one swimming along beside me with interest. *

Other animals of concern include only rare strays from South or East along that small section of the coast, as it is native habitat to none of those creatures.  The Piping Plover is an excellent example.  Anyone who has used Google Earth to study the Texas Gulf Coast in recent months will be aware that one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a Piping Plover nest when the migrate to the Gulf Coast (all of it!) for breeding.


* For other body surfers and snorkelers, here is a hint:  Sea Turtles find humans fascinating.  If you keep your arms at your sides when submerged, they will approach and swim along with you.  Flailing arms scare them off, no matter how slowly you may move them.

WCG+ 12-Oct-2012

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