AsiaSat Finds Red Tape Mires Launches from Cape Canaveral Spaceport

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — It had been more than a decade since AsiaSat bought launch services from a company flying from Florida, but cut-rate rides on Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rockets lured the commercial satellite operator back to the Cape Canaveral spaceport.

Hong Kong-based AsiaSat was not disappointed. SpaceX successfully delivered the second of two Space Systems/Loral-built AsiaSat satellites into orbit Sept. 7.

But working at the Air Force-controlled spaceport was even more cumbersome in 2014 than it had been in 2003, when AsiaSat 4 flew aboard an Atlas 3B rocket, AsiaSat Chief Executive William Wade told SpaceNews.

“Our experience with SpaceX was very positive. When we signed up with SpaceX we understood the fact that they were a new launch provider. We were early in their lifecycle, so to speak, so we understood that there were going to be some growing pains. But they performed very well. We really don’t have too many complaints,” Wade said.

But launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where SpaceX operates from a leased complex, does have its challenges, Wade said.

“The U.S. government has priority down here. The Air Force manages the Cape and so there are lots of restrictions and regulations. … You have to go through more bureaucracy to get things done,” he said.

Extra logistics include security clearances and permissions for non-U.S. citizens to work or visit the site, and regulations that limit how long people can be at certain locations, Wade said.

“It’s just something that you don’t have to deal with in launching elsewhere — at least that’s been our experience,” Wade said.

Since AsiaSat’s last Florida launch in 2003, “I think the regulations have become much more rigid. That’s probably obvious, given the world situation and the security requirements,” he added.

Four of AsiaSat’s last seven spacecraft were launched on Proton rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Its first two satellites flew from China on Long March rockets.

SpaceX recently announced plans to build a new launch complex in Texas that would be overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, not the Air Force.

“It’s unfortunate for the Cape,” Wade said. “[SpaceX] will have government missions [in Florida], but the commercial side of their business is going to continue to grow. I think it’s a shame that they aren’t in a position to feel comfortable that they would get the support here that they need to use facilities. It’s unfortunate, but they have to do what they feel is right for their business.”

Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, is hoping to develop a commercial spaceport on land north of Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle launch pads. After missing out on SpaceX’s expansion, Florida is eyeing Blue Origin’s launch business, among other companies.