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Space Science

Commercial Spaceport In Texas 194

Scothoser writes "CNN has this article on a rocket that was launched on a ranch site near Stockton, Texas. Their hope is that it will become a commercial launch site for anything, as long as it is legal. The major reason for this move is that using NASA launch sites are prohibitively expensive. This way someone can launch their home-made satellites for much less than approaching NASA. Now I am just waiting for the HOW-TO on a Linux-run micro-satellite!"
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Commercial Spaceport In Texas

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  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:17PM (#4398589)
    Is the launch site within 600 miles (range of Scud missle) of President Bush's ranch?
  • by Hi_2k ( 567317 )
    Now maybe the backsync boy has a chance of getting up there after all... And whos up for launching the worlds first space-time capsule?
  • by costela ( 198904 )
    Why not make your own HOW-TO?
    Next step: first Tux on the moon!
  • Legal? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cyno01 ( 573917 ) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:22PM (#4398618) Homepage
    What wouldn't be legal? Its space, its like international waters. I didn't sign a treaty saying i wouldn't launch any space based weapons platforms. Who's gonna stop me if i wanna launch my weather control machine (evil laugh).
    • Batman?
    • I would think that is the point. As long as it isn't a weapon, or anything else that would be dangerous to people on the ground, I would think you can do it. The certainly could legislate more restrictions, but as far as I know, safety is the only consideration.
    • Re:Legal? (Score:5, Funny)

      by (startx) ( 37027 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMunspunproductions.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:39PM (#4398683) Journal
      you've still got those nasty crypto export regulations to deal with, and as you pointed out, space is not the US, so if your sending out your weather control system, better make sure the controls have some very weak, legal encryption.
    • It might be legal to have your weather control machine space but maybe it is illegal to launch it from Texas. Don't mess with those Texans...they'll electrocute ya'!
    • Re:Legal? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Meridun ( 120516 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @06:12PM (#4398816) Homepage
      As funny as it is, this is actually pretty much the heart of why it costs so much to launch satellites: any rocket capable of putting something into orbit is realistically an ICBM.

      Near the anniversary of Sputnik (which I think was last week), I'd remind everyone that it was this fact that was why Sputnik was so frightening to Americans; if the Soviets could put a beeping piece of metal into orbit, they could just as easily have made it come down near us instead.

      Therefore, any company that is capable of putting cargo into space is very likely to find itself under strict regulation, due to the potential for that cargo to be miss orbit either accidentally or purposely.

      • Re:Legal? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        but if you think about it, commerical aviation isn't that much different with regard to this potential hazard. planes crash (or can be crashed on purpose).

        • Re:Legal? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Meridun ( 120516 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:42PM (#4400399) Homepage
          Correct, yet not as dangerous.

          Very few commercial planes travel above Mach 1. In order to get a package into orbit, it has to be going quite a bit faster. For example, geostationary orbit (orbiting once every 24 hours at 22,300 mi altitude/ 35,000 mi from center of earth) requires the satellite to be moving at about 9,000 mph. Given that Mach 1 is about 750 mph, that means that our satellite is traveling above Mach 12.

          Frankly, that's the real threat of an ICBM. It's extraordinarily difficult to shoot down something moving at 12 times the speed of sound and your decision time to engage is very small. Therefore, you are correct that Commercial Aviation does have this type of hazard, but I think you'll agree that the magnitude of danger is quite different.

          • Re:Legal? (Score:3, Informative)

            by lommer ( 566164 )
            Not at all...

            The 9,000 mph figure you're quoting is the escape velocity - an instantaneous velocity at the surface of the earth which, without any external acceleration save that of gravity, should theoretically get you into orbit.

            However, this is as ridiculously simplistic as it is stupid. In reality, one only has to achieve slightly more than 9.8m/s^2 acceleration and maintain that for the duration of the trip to space. Granted, the shuttle uses a LOT more than just 9.8 m/s^2 acceleration, but it still never reached speeds of 9,000 mph.
            • Re:Legal? (Score:3, Interesting)

              In reality, one only has to achieve slightly more than 9.8m/s^2 acceleration and maintain that for the duration of the trip to space.

              Actually, any positive acceleration no matter how small will do - though the higher the more efficient the launch will be. This means you have to generate a force of at least 9.8 N per kg of rocket at the surface though.

              Granted, the shuttle uses a LOT more than just 9.8 m/s^2 acceleration, but it still never reached speeds of 9,000 mph.

              Indeed, but the shuttle is not an ICBM. The difference being not the launch, but the landing. The shuttle has to land in one piece and keep its human cargo in one piece too. The ICBM may well go up at the same speed, but on the way down you want it to be going as fast as possible precisely because you want to give the target as little time as possible, so you make it aerodynamic and throw it down from low earth orbit.

              As for the figures, to maintain geostationary orbit you need to travel at just under 7000 mph. You wouldn't want the rocket to go anywhere near that on the way up - because you don't want it to reach or pass geostationary orbit, you want it to come back down again. However on the way down it it going to be going a lot faster than Mach 1.

            • The 9,000 mph figure you're quoting is the escape velocity - an instantaneous velocity at the surface of the earth which, without any external acceleration save that of gravity, should theoretically get you into orbit.

              9,000 mph is actually a pretty conservative ground speed for an orbiting vehicle. Probably right for geostationary orbit (I haven't checked the math) but low for low earth orbit. The space shuttle, for instance, orbits at a velocity of about 28,000 km/h--just shy of 20,000 mph.

              Plus, you get a whole pile of potential energy back when you descend from orbit. That said, a big piece of hardware like the shuttle (typical landing weight eighty to one hundred tons) will gouge out a big crater if it crashes from orbit, but not as big as you would expect.

              If it makes an uncontrolled reentry, there will also be uncontrolled heating, and all we'll get hit with on the ground will be little tiny shuttle bits. Some of them will be pretty hefty, but not that bad. If a shuttle goes through a normal reentry, quite a bit of speed is bled off before it hits the ground--it's no worse than an airliner crash as far as damage on the ground. There's no eighty-ton block of metal hitting the ground at 20,000 mph (six miles per second)--just an airliner-sized block moving at less than the speed of sound. (Bad, but not unimaginably scarily bad.) Also, it's costly to put weight in orbit--so there won't be many tons of flammable aviation fuel waiting to ignite when a crash occurs.

              You can bet your ass the FAA (among other agencies--probably the military will be interested) will sit up and take notice of commercial space flights. Anything that looks like it has applications as a weapon will never make it anywhere near a launch pad.

              Actually, the FAA will regulate this sort of thing anyway--they're responsible for the air that any commercial space flight has to pass through to get away from earth.

              • 9,000 mph is actually a pretty conservative ground speed for an orbiting vehicle. Probably right for geostationary orbit (I haven't checked the math)

                ... yup, you sure haven't checked the math. Or the english, for that matter.

                • Yep, you're right.

                  Congratulations! You've located the single dumbest remark I've yet made on Slashdot. I blame lack of sleep for the error. Consider the phrasing suitably amended.

                  Too bad the moderators are probably finished with this topic; I probably could have snagged a +1 Funny.

    • True, but you'll still have to put the rocket through US air to get from Texas to space, hence within US Territorial waters as it were...
    • "The moon belongs to the United States..."

      (It's a Simpsons reference, so don't mod me down.)
    • "What wouldn't be legal? Its space, its like international waters."

      First you have to get there. When last I checked, All of Texas and a good deal of the waters off its coast is under US airspace. If you want to go to space through US airpsace, you have to follow FAA and DOD rules
  • Linux? (Score:2, Informative)

    by dacarr ( 562277 )
    Why not? We radio hams have all sorts of crap in space already. =^_^=

  • Oooh! (Score:1, Funny)

    by razormage ( 145522 )
    Perhaps now Lance Bass can finally make it into space!
  • by Ryu2 ( 89645 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:28PM (#4398635) Homepage Journal
    What if your private rocket has a malfunction and goes slamming into a major city, killing thousands? With space technology so new compared to all other forms of transportation, I'm guessing that it would be an insurance nightmare, I think, for any private individual or even single company to afford.
    • Without backing this properly up ...:

      1. I'm sure there is a large, unpopulated area surrounding the launch site.

      2. The rockets are thoroughly tested and secured, if something does go wrong it probably just blow up on ground or mid air.

      3. They've probably thought a lot of it and can probably be 99.99% sure it won't happend (maybe the rockets has got self destruct functions.)
    • Liability is probably less than for commercial airlines -- they are not "flying" over any populated areas so the risk is pretty low.

      Like most people you are forgetting that insurance is one of the few industries run entirely on logic and mathematics -- their actuaries calculate the risk and the cost and multiple it out to get your premium.

      That's why hunters in Canada can get a couple of million dollars in liability insurance as part of their OFAH [ofah.org] membership -- it only costs the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters a couple of bucks per *random* member ...

      • Like most people you are forgetting that insurance is one of the few industries run entirely on logic and mathematics -- their actuaries calculate the risk and the cost and multiple it out to get your premium.

        actually, not quite exact: I met a man whose sole livelihood depends on insurance companies NOT familiar with the law of large numbers ...

        to explain: his company is a middleman between the large insurance companies and single insurance agents.

        Now, this company's sole service is being a medium-scale repository of agents for the large companies, and for this they take 10% commision.

        Why do the agents do this ? because the large companies treat every account as a profit-making unit, so even if the single agent is very succesful, just one large insurance claim causes him to be unprofitable some fiscal year (or several years), which means this agent will be out of a job. For the medium-sized company, however, fluctuations are much smaller, hence they have little risk, they are almost allways a "profitable unit" .

        This causes the absurd situation that large insurance companies lose 10% of gross-profit (more for real profit) because they ignore the law of large numbers !!

        now, I asked this man wether they didn't know the absurdity of this, and he said of course they did, but they needed to justify every account to the board as profitable, so they did not try to change it.

        And the morals of the story: like every industry, the insurance industry is not allways run solely on math and logic ... corporate politics takes its toll here as well.

      • Like most people you are forgetting that insurance is one of the few industries run entirely on logic and mathematics -- their actuaries calculate the risk and the cost and multiple it out to get your premium.

        Of course, there is a little bit of black magic involved in predicting just what fraction of commercial spaceflights will blow up on the pad, and how many of them will land in major cities and kill thousands of people. I don't actually think that the latter is a particularly probably event, but deciding just how improbable is a decidedly nontrivial task. Blithely saying that actuaries "calculate the risk" glosses over quite a bit of guesswork. I imagine that they just try to guess high, but really...

        On the other hand, rockets are in many ways safer than airliners. During launch, they're in the middle of nowhere-failures cost money, but only the replacement cost of rocket and pad. No multi-billion-dollar class action suits. Rockets carry range safety charges to allow safe detonation of the craft if it goes anywhere near anyplace it oughtn't go. By the time a rocket reaches a populated area, it probably has also staged at least once, and is carry quite a bit less highly explosive fuel.

        Worst case scenario: An uncontrolled commercial rocket hits a heavily-populated area shortly after launch. Net result: lots of people die. But it's not any worse than what happens when a commercial airliner crashes shortly after takeoff in an urban centre--do you know how much fuel is aboard a fully-loaded 747 at takeoff? Know how much one weighs? At least a rocket doesn't have hundreds of passengers to kill.

      • they are not "flying" over any populated areas so the risk is pretty low.

        NASA Picked the Florida site for several reasons. One of the most important is that the launches go east, out over the ocean. If something fails, it falls onto NASA land or into the water. Before every launch, they clear the launch path of boats for safety. The idea is that NOTHING is in the launch path during a launch.

        Stockton Texas may not have many people downwind, but there are still some. Where there aren't people there is still private land. If a rocket falls in the middle of a cow pasture, the rancher is still going to get mad.

        The specific risk may be low due to relatively low periodicity of launches (compared to airline flights) and empty terrain, but it still has much more potential dammage landing a flaiming rocket there than in the ocean.

        They should have picked somewhere with an easterly view of an ocean.

        On another note: Another reason NASA choose Florida is that the further south you launch, the better boost they get from the Earths rotation. The prime launch site would be on the equator. Private launch sites on the east cost of Brazil would be the best to save fuel.

    • Isn't the helicopter newer than rockets?
    • What if your private rocket has a malfunction and goes slamming into a major city, killing thousands?
      Look at a map. There's not a major city within 100 miles of Fort Stockton, Texas. Cape Canaveral is much closer to major metro areas than Fort Stockton ever will be.
      • Cape Canaveral launches over water! Range safety destroys the vehicle before it can get over land.

        Vandenberg likewise launches over water.

        White Sands launches over a military area where they can prohibit entry.

        Fort Stockton, OTOH, is landlocked with no place to create a completely safe range.

      • Look at a map. There's not a major city within 100 miles of Fort Stockton, Texas. Cape Canaveral is much closer to major metro areas than Fort Stockton ever will be.

        For range safety purposes 100 miles is nothing. The permissible launch azimuths from Cape Canaveral are set by Newfoundland to the north, and Brazil to the south. Fort Stockton, on the other hand, launches right over the biggest cities in Texas.

        Vandenberg has a limited range of launch azimuths, but since they can launch due south without any danger of hitting anything (look at a map), they are the preferred site for U.S. launches to polar orbit.


    • By the time a rocket gets anywhere near a city it's already burnt most or all its fuel- you don't take off near a city in the first place; and rockets burn most of their fuel very early on.

      Also the amount of fuel onboard a rocket is typically about the same as a 767 in fact, and aeroplanes can carry most of it right into the heart of New York, as you will have seen, but rockets can't do that.

    • You haven't been to Fort Stockton, have you? The only thing they have thousands of is jackrabbits.

      Of course, I used to drive through it, heading to El Paso. Considering what a speed trap it used to be, I can only imagine the police licking their lips... after all, imagine what kind of speeding ticket they could give a rocket!
    • "What if your private rocket has a malfunction and goes slamming into a major city, killing thousands?"

      That's why the US DOD requires that any and all space launches from the US have to be able to self-destruct into peices smaller than some threshold I don't know off the top of my head. Think of the various Delta II launch failures.

      Besides, although I don't know what lattitude this site is at, the only major city that could be under their launch path is maybe Orlando, FL. And the rocket would probably be too high/fast to hit that target only a few seconds after launch.
      • That threshhold must be larger than the shuttle SRB's, because when Challenger was safetied, the SRB's were nullified by removing the nose caps. The remaining fuel burned out producing zero net thrust.
  • Well, leave it to the US Government to charge exorbiantly high prices just to shoot something up into the air.
  • Old News??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by razvedchik ( 107358 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:28PM (#4398640)
    I just made a space station last night for $125,000 while playing Sim City 3000.

    Now if the aliens hadn't come and zapped it up in their flying saucers, I wouldn't have to rebuild it today.

    *sigh* Being mayor is hard.

  • This isn't new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wyopittsa ( 310894 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:34PM (#4398665)
    According to this article [spacer.com] there is a spaceport in California that has been launching since the year 2000. Does anyone know anymore about it?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This sounds to me like the next redkneck hangout.

    Well cledus, grab us a six-pack and we'll take the truck down and launch up a few satilites

    At least they will have something to do besides shooting road signs and/or broken down vehicles in their front lawn.
  • Neighbours (Score:2, Funny)

    by pilich ( 455704 )
    Our neighbours complain when our dogs bark too loud. I wonder what they would say if we started launching rockets?
  • by MrEd ( 60684 ) <tonedog@noSpaM.hailmail.net> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:37PM (#4398676)
    Cost-saving measures at this new privately-owned spaceport will include an abbreviated launch sequence - no longer will T-minus start at two days, instead Joe will stand next to the launch plunger and count to three.

    No NASA frills, no NASA gimmicks! Sign up now!

    • Many people who are working on aspects of reducing costs of space launches would like to dispense with the countdown entirely. It isn't routine enough until we can get it down to "cleared for takeoff" issued by an air traffic controller.
  • by stevarooski ( 121971 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:37PM (#4398677) Homepage
    Excellent! I hope they add a cantina. Also can't forget to renovate docking bay 94.

    In addition, I hope they can keep those pesky jawas out. They shouldn't serve their kind there.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:39PM (#4398686) Homepage
    There's also a spaceport in Oklahoma, and the state gives tax breaks for people who move their rocketry stuff there. Launch licenses are also somewhat easier to obtain. I happen to know John Carmack was considering doing some of his stuff there.
  • yay for them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ehlo ( 578765 ) <erikloostrom@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:40PM (#4398688)
    This is an excellent idea. The government controlled [nasa] launch sites want a small fortune ($1mil+) to jetisson a can of coke into space. These private foundations can only cost a fraction of that.. and im sure more of these privately owned sites will spring forth around the globe pretty quickly. And as we all know only with competition can something really be accomplished. Nasa has proven that without due such all they can accomplish is launch dates in the 3000's. A round of applause to the people of Rancho de Stockton.
    Props to Gene Lyda for letting them use the land free-of-charge!
  • You know... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Moonshadow ( 84117 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:40PM (#4398691)
    I wonder if, for a certain price, you could shoot various people you don't like off into the voids of space. Now THERE's a business plan.

    "Want a certain someone to disappear? Call 1-800-ASTRONAUT - the perfect birthday or anniversary gift!"

    They'd make millions.

  • by OmenChange ( 183545 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @05:41PM (#4398693)
    But no way I'd get on a Linux based shuttle.

    DIY Astronaut: "Houston, I'm running out of oxygen! Having trouble breathing. Why can't I get the air scrubbers to help make the air more breathable?"

    Houston: "Patches are welcome."
  • how long does it take before someone starts shooting Wifi access points in the sky, with free guest logins for any martians passing by. Anyway, does someone know how much is a launch going to cost? With all these odd things sold at ebay nowadays - you might actually make a fortune by selling virtual hosts hosted in the space.
  • Legal? FAA? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I thought the FAA more or less controlled the skies, more or less, even over privately owned land. Rocketry included. Did they get waivers? Furthermore, I thought the launch vehicle also had to be "approved" by them. This is unlike some other launches covered on /., where the site is government run and is largely a testing ground or it's a small hob, or they got an excemption for that particular launch.

    Carmack's info (armadilloaerospace.com, if I recall) had some information a while back (I haven't read it for about 8 months now) about some difficulty getting permissions from the local FAA. They were talking to folks in Oklahoma, last I heard. Did something suddenly change re the FAA?

    Or are these people just doing this thinking it's legal because it's on private land?
  • I'm a member of JPA (JP Aerospace) and had the honor of attending this event. The launch went perfectly and we had some fun chasing and recoving a high-altitude balloon.

    The only other interesting thing that I could provide that you won't find elsewhere is that the rocket motor was slightly stronger than an 'N'. (I am not sure what this impulse equals in Newtons. Maybe someone else can provide that).
    • Dr. JJJ -- An N motor is between 20,480.01 and 40,960 newton seconds. Slightly stronger would be something more than that and probably at the low end of the O (40,960.01 - 81,920 newton seconds) range. If I remember correctly, the ML launches with a full N staging to an M. I don't remember the total installed impluse, but I'll ask JP next time I see him.
  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @06:29PM (#4398904)
    JP Aerospace is a great little company, partially run by volunteers. Their main specialty is extremely high altitude balloon platforms (edge of space) from which they can conduct experiments and launch rockets. John does a lot of work with kids and education, including taking up "Pong-Sats", which are ping pong balls cut open and stuffed with what ever the kids want to put in them, sans live animals. One person put some digital camera memory in it with all the bits set to zero, and then when it came back got a very accurate radiation measurement by counting all the bits that had flipped.

    I had the pleasure of meeting John at the last Space Access Society meeting in Arizona and talking to him for several hours about high altitude photography from balloon and kite platforms.


  • armadillo (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kallahar ( 227430 ) <kallahar@quickwired.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @06:37PM (#4398932) Homepage
    Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace (god, I'd love to go work for them :) tried to launch in Texas but couldn't get approval. They had to drive 6 hours to Oklahoma which is launch-friendly (if you give manufacturing preference to OK companies). There are many places that are offering alternative launch locations to NASA, but it's still tough to get approval.

    Links: Armadillo Aerospace Log Entry [armadilloaerospace.com] and The Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority [state.ok.us]
    • The reason why Oklahoma is in favor of cheap space and Texas throws regulatory roadblocks in front of it whenever it can is here [nasa.gov]. Once you have your snout in the federal trough, it is hard to pull it out.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @07:26PM (#4399126)
    Now I am just waiting for the HOW-TO on a Linux-run micro-satellite!

    Amateur satellites are nothing new. Hams and AMSAT [amsat.org] have been putting satellites up since the early 60's. Right now they have about 20 operational satellites in orbit. Linux based software is quite popular in the Ham community, and plays a big role in AMSAT operations. Satellite Software [linux.org.au]

    The HOW-TO's :

    Davidoff, Martin, The Satellite Experimenter's
    Handbook Newington, CT: The American
    Radio Relay League, 1984.

    Jansson, Richard, Spacecraft Technology Trends
    in the Amateur Satellite Service, Ogden, UT:
    Proceedings of the 1st Annual USU Conference
    on Small Satellites, 1987.
  • bad location! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2002 @07:28PM (#4399134)
    It's stupid to put a space launch facility in Texas. Especially a commercial one.

    If you launch from close to the equator, you get a much larger initial velocity, and it's free. Free! You can carry a larger payload or use less fuel with your rocket.

    When the French started up Ariannespace, they put it French Guyanna, very close to the equator. Ariannespace has about half of the commerical satellite business.
    • On the other hand, places like Texas and Florida have the advantages of being able to put whatever you want to have thrown up into space into the back of a truck and simply driving it down to Texas or Florida. Just about any place else and you'll have to find a ship to bring your stuff out there, and unless we're talking about Hawaii or a US posession/territory, you'll then have to deal with import/export regulations, which may or may not include tariffs/duties/etc.

      Just because it's somewhat cheaper to launch from lower latitudes doesn't mean it's also easier to reach the launch sitess down there. Name one country on the equator with a half-way modern trasportation infrastructure.
      • Re:bad location! (Score:2, Informative)

        by lommer ( 566164 )
        There's some northern parts of Australia that are fairly close. And Singapore is pretty stable too. Though its infrastucture isn't the best, Malaysia isn't a half-bad option either. India also fits that description too.
  • by bbc22405 ( 576022 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:40PM (#4399699)
    Texas is a fine choice for a launch site, if for no other reason than Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama being immediately downrange. In the event there is some problem keeping the launch vehicle on course, I can't think of three more deserving states. :-)
  • by freaker_TuC ( 7632 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:45PM (#4400418) Homepage Journal
    ... So in theory we can finally shoot CowboyNeal to outer-space ? ...


    Sorry had to say it :)
  • by hackshack ( 218460 ) on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:13AM (#4400868)
    To our loyal clients:

    JP Aerospace is now requiring all manned launches to carry at least one ten-gallon cowboy hat per launch. In the rare event of a guidance system malfunction, the crewmember is required to straddle the rocket (see diagram 14) and wave said hat above his/her head while letting out a steady stream of whooping as the rocket falls back to earth.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Monday October 07, 2002 @03:27AM (#4401228) Homepage
    The Eastern Range (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center) and Western Range (Vandenberg Air Force Base) are run by the U.S. Air Force. They set the safety requirements and have the responsibility for the safe operation of the range.

    When you launch a rocket, you have to be able to guarantee that in the event of a malfunction, the rocket will fall in a safe impact area. There are systems that predict the impact point based on the current position and velocity of the launch vehicle. If there is a danger that the current predicted impact point will move outside of the safe impact area, the range safety officer will send a command to the rocket to activate the flight termination system. The flight termination system terminates powered flight by using linear shaped charges to open up fuel/oxidizer tanks and solid rocket motor cases. This guarantees that the rocket, or the pieces of the rocket, will follow a ballistic trajectory and land in the safe impact area.

    • Last Friday I was talking to somebody from the FAA who is working with the Air Force on upgrading their equipment - right now they use old C-band radar for tracking rockets from launch, and it's expensive to maintain. Cost is somewhere around $1 million per launch. You could do the same thing for about 1/1,000 the cost with off-the-shelf GPS equipment. The plan is to get the upgrade done in the next 2-3 years.
  • When I die I want my head chopped off and launched into orbit.
  • This reminds me of a quote from Scott Adams in The Dilbert Future:
    "If every little pissant country - France, for example - started launching satellites into space, it wouldn't be safe to go outside."

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court