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Snapshot: News-Sentinel readers rate their vacations Family has fun on Yosemite adventures

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Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 7:19 am | Updated: 9:03 am, Fri Jul 20, 2012.

Who went: Jerry, Julie, Gabriella, William, Joshua and Thomas Violette or Lockeford; Larry and Andrea Violette of Lodi.

Vacation Spot: Yosemite National Park.

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Once the launchpad for Apollo and space shuttle flights, NASA’s Launch Complex 39A is now in the hands of SpaceX and its enigmatic billionaire leader, Elon Musk.

With a 20-year lease, the privately held Hawthorne, Calif.,-based company is rebuilding the launch complex at Kennedy Space Center to fit its rockets — the Falcon 9 and the soon-to-debut Falcon Heavy super-rocket — just as it envisions reshaping the space-launch industry.

The overhaul of 39A is the Central Florida centerpiece of SpaceX’s plans. The company also has two other leased launchpads, Launch Complex 40 nearby at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and one at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. It plans to build a fourth pad near Brownsville, Texas.

Its short-range goal is to pursue private and military launch contracts. Eventually, SpaceX hopes to colonize Mars.

Next up will be the company’s fifth NASA-contracted mission to haul equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.

The launch of SpaceX’s Dragon resupply capsule, postponed three times, now is scheduled for a Jan. 6 liftoff from Launch Complex 40.

Starting in 2018, SpaceX is one of two private rocket companies with contracts to ferry astronauts to the space station.


“Elon wants to rule the world,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “The company has a long-term strategy to become a, or maybe the, dominant player in space activity.”


SpaceX’s longer-term plans are not dependent on NASA, but on spurring a worldwide increase in private space launches, Logsdon said.

And with all the company is investing now, it is gambling on an extremely robust private-space business in the 2020s, said George Abbey, a former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and now a senior fellow of space policy at the Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The company “has got to be successful in capturing the launch-vehicle market,” Abbey said of SpaceX. The company would not grant an interview.


Industry advocates such as Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation trade group, think there will be a lot of space-launch business in the next decade.

Stallmer said launches are by far the biggest cost of putting a private satellite into service. So as competition and innovation drive down launch costs and increase reliability, the market should increase “exponentially” from the 30 commercial launches a year now seen worldwide, he said.

“They (SpaceX) keep challenging themselves and the industry, and they keep succeeding, and it’s really changing the way we do business in space,” he said.


In interviews, Musk often has talked of his dream of sending astronauts to Mars. SpaceX already is pursuing some Mars-landing technologies. Musk has said he could reach Mars by 2030 — ahead of NASA’s plans to do so — and envisions creating a colony there.

The commercial space industry is full of ambitious new companies, including others like SpaceX, run by charismatic billionaires. They must compete with established companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the European cooperative Arianespace, Russia’s Soyuz and others that have strong relationships with governments and satellite companies.

Two, Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic, had disastrous setbacks this fall. Orbital’s rocket and capsule blew up on liftoff in Virginia, on a space station resupply mission in October. Three days later, Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test, killing a pilot.

SpaceX has successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket 13 times.

During the next several years, SpaceX has contracts for 40 more rockets, include five for launching the Falcon Heavy.


All five of the big rockets and 23 of the others are scheduled to launch from Florida.

That could change once SpaceX finishes its private launch complex near Brownsville, said Roger Handberg, who specializes in space policy at University of Central Florida.

In Florida, SpaceX can launch only on dates approved by the Air Force, but in Texas the company has freedom to launch on its own schedule. He expects the company’s private payloads to be launched mostly in Texas.


SpaceX nearly went bankrupt before it started winning NASA contracts, Handberg said. And the company’s deals with NASA to service the space station likely will last only through 2025, when the station is scheduled to be decommissioned.


Though SpaceX has won some U.S. military launches, most remain committed to old-guard contractors such as the United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

This year, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded to ULA a long-term, no-bid contract extension for 36 military launches. Musk blasted the deal in congressional testimony, and then SpaceX sued the federal government. That suit is pending.

UCF’s Handberg said it’s unclear whether there will be enough private rocket-launch business for SpaceX, as other companies emerge and older ones dig in.


©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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Vote on the biggest local story in 2014: See poll below

It has been an eventful year in Lodi, from the antics of a wild turkey named Tom Kettleman to the announced closure of the General Mills plant. What do you see as the biggest story of the year?

Total Votes: 333


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