Port Canaveral Considers Charging SpaceX 14 Times Normal Fee For Booster Return

A dispute may be brewing between SpaceX and the Canaveral Port Authority, where the private space company brings its recovered boosters back to land. Citing concerns over wear and tear on the port’s facilities, the Authority is considering raising SpaceX’s fees by 14 times, to a total of $15,000 for each booster passing through.

Port Canaveral is the facility that SpaceX relies on in its operations. Spent boosters are recovered aboard their drone ship, which docks at the Port. They are then offloaded from the drone ship with SpaceX’s special crane, loaded onto a truck and delivered to Kennedy Space Center.

All of this activity puts a special strain on the Port’s facilities, according to Rodger Rees, the port’s deputy executive director and chief financial officer. In a memo to port commissioners, he said “Due to the heavy weight and the effect of this weight on the port’s berths, staff is recommending that the tariff be expanded to include a wharfage charges category for aerospace/aircraft items.”

So far, SpaceX has transported 3 recovered boosters through Port Canaveral. The rationalization for the fee increase is based on some minor damage caused to the Port, and on the increased wear and tear that 30 ton boosters will have on the Port and its structures. SpaceX’s special crane also takes up space at the Port.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable first stage lands on the drone ship before being transported to Port Canaveral. Image: SpaceX

But SpaceX isn’t being singled out. The Port is trying to develop a fee structure for private space companies, who are expected to proliferate in the future and require port facilities the same way SpaceX does.

“As new aerospace companies relocate to the Space Coast, it is anticipated that the port will need to accommodate items of a similar nature in the future, and will retain the right to negotiate these future charges, if needed,” said Rees in the same memo.

The fees themselves are a result of research into what other ports charge for oversized items. Staff at Port Canaveral have recommended charging $500 a ton or $15,000 per item, whichever amount is greater. In his memo to the port’s commissioners, Rees also said “Staff understands that the current Falcon first stage weighs approximately 30 tons when it arrives in the port on the drone ship. Under this weight, it is anticipated that each time the rocket stage is transported over the berth, a charge of $15,000 will be assessed and collected from the owner of the item.”

Rees made note of the cool factor that having SpaceX recover boosters at their facility gives the Port. SpaceX’s use of the Port attracts a lot of public interest, which also creates additional security and logistical considerations for the Port.

SpaceX has indicated that it is concerned with the raise in fees. Representatives from Port Canaveral and SpaceX are due to discuss the issue at a meeting on Wednesday, June 22nd.

Evan Gough

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