Friday, April 5, 2024

Small Space News Story Roundup 33

As always, small stories I found interesting. 

Biden Admin proposes SpaceX Tax Commercial Launch Tax  

They call it a commercial launch tax, but in reality it is a SpaceX tax because they do the vast majority of commercial launches in this country. The vast majority of those are for Starlink, which are SpaceX launching for themselves.

The New York Times reports this as "cost-sharing," saying that commercial airlines pay for the Air Traffic Control network in the US through user fees - passed through to their customers as a tax on launches surely would be passed on to those customers. Commercial space companies are exempt from the aviation excise taxes which fill the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, and in turn pays for the FAA’s work. That fund will get roughly $18 billion in tax revenues for the current fiscal year.

There's one major difference between the aviation excise tax and applying it to commercial launches. Air traffic controllers handle an average of 45,000 daily airplane flights or 16.4 million per year. There were 117 commercial launches last year, which isn't even a tiny fraction of the least significant digit in the 16.4 million. Yes, the launches do involve air traffic control routing around the launch sites for a few hours in the very few places (three? four?) where rockets fly.

Divide that $18 billion tax revenue by the number of flights to get around $1095 tax revenue per flight. Adding that to every rocket flight and assuming 150 launches per year turns that $18 billion to an astounding $18.000164250. $164,250 from 150 launches isn't even one least significant digit in the nice, round $18 billion estimate.

Playing with numbers (while purely for laughs) is hamstrung by not knowing how big the tax proposal is. It's also good to recall that SpaceX already talked about providing funds for the FAA to hire more staff to work on launch licensing.  That said, a commercial launch industry spokesperson had this comment.

Members of the commercial space industry argue it is still at a nascent stage, and taxing the industry is “not appropriate at this time,” said Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Some Launch Updates and News 

  • The final Delta IV Heavy, NROL-70 is currently set for Tuesday, April 9 12:53 PM EDT.
  • Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) has moved from May 1 to May 6 10:34 PM EDT. While night launches are pretty from here, it will be toward the NE. If the launch is delayed a day or two, the liftoff time will move earlier by about 23 minutes per day (due to the Space Station's orbit).

Polaris Dawn is Getting Closer

While there is no proposed date, the Polaris Dawn mission we've been awaiting is being talked about as "early summer"which could be as soon as late June.

In a series of posts on the social media platform X this week, SpaceX said the Crew Dragon spacecraft assigned to the all-private Polaris Dawn mission is heading into thermal vacuum testing. The thermal vacuum test will expose the capsule to the airless environment it will see in orbit, both inside and outside the spacecraft, when it is depressurized for the first fully commercial spacewalk in history. This capability required modifications to the spacecraft, which last flew in 2021. Billionaire Jared Isaacman will command the mission. He'll be joined by former Air Force test pilot Scott "Kidd" Poteet and SpaceX engineers Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon. [BOLD added - SiG]

No Dragon capsule has been exposed to total vacuum as the mission requires, and modifications include big enough oxygen/air supplies to allow the vehicle to be refilled "a few" times. 

In parallel with modifications to the Crew Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX has designed an upgraded spacesuit to protect the four Polaris Dawn crew members in the vacuum of space. SpaceX hasn't yet revealed the new spacesuit, but Isaacman posted last month that the Polaris Dawn crew completed most of the suit's "acceptance test" procedure, which involved actually putting on the final assembled suits. Upcoming milestones include a test run with the crew members inside the actual Crew Dragon spacecraft, vacuum chamber testing, and mission simulations. Other objectives for Polaris Dawn include flying to a higher orbit around Earth than any human has reached since Apollo, testing Starlink internet connectivity in space, and conducting more than 35 research experiments. Launch is scheduled for early summer.

At the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, CA, the Polaris Dawn capsule (far back in the middle of the aisle), SpaceX workers and Polaris Dawn crew pose for a picture.  Crew (L-R) Anna Menon, Scott "Kidd" Poteet, Jared "Rook" Isaacman, and Sarah Gillis are in the middle front, without their arms up.

There are no photos of the new SpaceX EVA suits.


  1. Huh, about Dragon never being exposed to complete vacuum inside and out. I would have thought that would have been a requirement for certification due to the potential of losing pressurization in said capsule during an emergency.

    As to the 'space tax,' didn't SpaceX already said they'd be willing to pay a license fee every time they get a launch license?

    1. I'm not real happy with the way I worded that part about "No Dragon capsule has been exposed to total vacuum as the mission requires..." I don't know they were Never exposed to a vacuum as some sort of test, just that they weren't tested to what leaving the capsule open for the conditions Polaris Dawn will require.

    2. Ah, okay. But if it was tested for survival after a pressure loss, then all they're worried about is long-term 'exposure' to vacuum.

      Still, if the capsule wouldn't fall apart after a rapid pressure drop, which (to me) it should have been tested to, then hopefully it will survive longterm vacuum.

  2. Won't they have to get Congress to approve a "space tax"? Whoops, my mistake, the Democrats don't need no stinkin' Congressional approval even if the action is Unconstitutional without Congressional approval.

    If they make it a "launch fee" they may be able to do it. For SpaceX the "launch fee" would be millions. But if the company was Democrat favorable, the "launch fee" would be waived.

  3. FedGov is gonna screw around and force the Space Industries to another, friendlier country. And ,then...

    Hmmmmmmmmm - the science fiction stories I read even waaaaay back in the '60s had just his scenario where the companies left the US (and eventually, the Earth) for just this reason. Did they suspect something? Nah...

    Nah, they just knew that Gubmint Greed would muck things up.

  4. It appears that (the people/governments[?] behind)the Biden administration is determined to remove our country from the world leadership position in the space race/industrialization/advancements in medicine/value of currency/usw IMHO

  5. Florida and Texas need to jump on the "commercial launch tax" and pre empt it. Cut the FAA out and have the state department's of transportation be responsible. Then claim the FAA it interferring with State activities / rights if FFA attempts to regulate or tax.

    1. FAA already has 'power' over airspace over the US. No state has 'sovreign' powers over airspace within their state borders.

      Now, sadly, much like income taxes, some states (CA, NY, NJ etc) can probably add state taxes to spacecraft that enter their airspace.