Space shots give a big boost to tiny Texas town

VAN HORN, Texas — When I last visited this West Texas town in 2006, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture was planning to provide suborbital space trips for paying passengers by 2010.

The bad news for Van Horn is that it’s taken a decade longer than expected for Blue Origin’s space boom to come to town. But the good news is that the economic impact is arguably 10 times as great.

Blue Origin’s 15-year-old environmental assessment, which was the subject of the Federal Aviation Administration hearing I attended in 2006, estimated that 20 to 35 full-time employees would be working at the company’s suborbital launch site a half-hour drive north of Van Horn.

Fifteen years later, the actual figure is 275 employees — due not only to Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship, which Bezos and three crewmates are scheduled to ride on Tuesday, but also due to the rocket engine testing program that’s based at Launch Site One.


SpaceX will expand satellite operation to Texas

SpaceX is planning to break ground on a “state-of-the-art manufacturing facility” in Austin, Texas, to support a satellite operation that got its start in Redmond, Wash.

The company’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, set up the Starlink satellite operation in Redmond five years ago. It’s now said to turn out six satellites per day for SpaceX’s broadband internet constellation, which is in the midst of an expanding beta test. More than 1,000 of the satellites have already been deployed in low Earth orbit, and SpaceX continues to launch them in batches of as many as 60 at a time.

Starlink is the furthest along of several mega-constellation projects aimed at providing global internet access via satellites in low Earth orbit. Competitors include OneWebTelesat and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

In contrast to SpaceX’s Redmond facility, the Austin factory would build “millions of consumer-facing devices that we ship directly to customers (Starlink dishes, Wi-Fi routers, mounting hardware, etc.),” SpaceX said in a job posting. That part of the operation has been managed from SpaceX’s headquarters in the Los Angeles area.

Cosmic Space

Another awesome flip (and fiery crash) for Starship

SpaceX’s second high-altitude test flight of its Starship super-rocket prototype looked picture-perfect until the fiery crash at the very end.

In that sense, today’s up-and-down launch for SN9 echoed last month’s test of SN8. The 160-foot-tall rocket rose majestically from SpaceX’s Boca Chica test facility in South Texas, climbed to a maximum altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), hovered for a few moments and then went horizontal for an aerodynamic descent at subsonic speeds.

The rocket was programmed to fire up its methane-fueled Raptor engines and flip itself back to a vertical position, just moments before  touchdown. Video of the test flight showed SN9 pitching over, but failing to straighten itself. As a result, the massive rocket belly-flopped onto its landing pad, exploding in a huge fiery cloud.

During today’s webcast, SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker insisted the flight wasn’t a flop. He pointed out that the test was designed to try out all of Starship’s systems, from the three Raptors to the flight control system and its stabilizing flaps.

“We had, again, another great flight up to the 10-kilometer apogee. We demonstrated the ability to transition the engines to the landing propellant tanks. The subsonic re-entry looked very good and stable,” he said. “Again, we’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit.”