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SpaceX may have to pay $500 per ton to bring its landed Falcon 9 rockets into port

SpaceX may have to pay $500 per ton to bring its landed Falcon 9 rockets into port

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Port Canaveral — the busy naval port on Florida’s Space Coast — is considering making a big change to its tariff fees. Specifically, the port is mulling over charging companies a hefty fee for bringing "aerospace" or "aircraft items" into the harbor. If the new change goes into effect, companies transporting spacecraft into the port would have to pay $500 for every ton the vehicle weighs.

Hmmm, I wonder if that fee will affect anyone specifically? Do we know anyone that brings multi-ton spacecraft into Port Canaveral every now and then?

Oh, right. SpaceX does that.

Hmmm, I wonder if that fee will affect anyone specifically?

Over the past year and a half, SpaceX has tried to recover the majority of its Falcon 9 rockets, by landing them on floating drone ships at sea. So far, the company has pulled off three sea landings, all of which have occurred in the Atlantic near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Each time a Falcon 9 landed on a drone ship, the rocket was transported back to Port Canaveral where it was unloaded by a crane and then moved to a nearby storage hangar at Kennedy Space Center.

The company did pay tariff fees for these rockets, but the fees weren’t that high. Port Canaveral has a list of fees for different types of incoming cargo, but "landed spacecraft" isn’t one of them. So, SpaceX’s landed rockets fall under the category of "all items not otherwise specified," which charges $3.02 per ton of cargo.

But with the new change, SpaceX could be paying up to $500 per ton; that could add up to $15,000 per rocket, since a recovered Falcon 9 can weigh up to 30 tons. Port Canaveral says the rockets pose a weight issue, and CEO John Murray told Florida Today that transferring the rockets onto the docks at Port Canaveral have caused minor damage.

Port Canaveral says the rockets pose a weight issue

"Due to the heavy weight and the effect of this weight on the Ports [sic] berths, staff is recommending that its tariffs be expanded to include a wharfage charges category for aerospace aircraft items," Rodger Rees, Port Canaveral’s CFO, wrote in a memo. He noted that the new fee is based on research of other ports that bring in similar types of aerospace and aircraft vehicles.

But SpaceX isn’t too pleased with the idea. "The proposed wharfage fee is 14 times higher than what any other business is being charged for using port facilities," SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in an email. Currently, the highest anyone pays for incoming cargo is $35.30 per ton.

Port Canaveral plans to address the proposed tariff changes in a meeting tomorrow, where SpaceX plans to present. The changes will only affect SpaceX for now, but the port expects the new tariff to apply to other aerospace companies that move to the Space Coast in the future. SpaceX considers Port Canaveral "an important partner," but it will still try to fight the price hike. "We expect fees to be fair and reflect our actual use of the port," Taylor said in the email. "We’re looking forward to participating in the meeting later this week."