A 154-foot SpaceX rocket booster has arrived at its new home outside of the DISH Network Corporate Offices in Littleton, on the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Bowles Avenue and Santa Fe Drive.
It is a Falcon 9, which is a type of reusable rocket that SpaceX uses for repeated launches. According to SpaceX’s website, the Falcon 9 is the first orbital-class reusable rocket in the world.
This particular booster is being repurposed as an exhibit, sitting atop three pedestals on the DISH Network campus. It sits about 12 feet in the air, crossing over Little’s Creek Trail, Littleton Public Works Director Keith Reester said.
DISH Network, a satellite television company headquartered in unincorporated Douglas County, approached the City of Littleton in 2021 to pitch the project, according to the city.
Reester said SpaceX donated the booster to DISH, and the maintenance and security of the exhibit are DISH’s responsibilities.
The city helped with the regulatory side of the project but has no direct costs because the Telluray Foundation, a local foundation, provided a $2.4 million grant to cover the costs of project development and installation.
The Telluray Foundation declined to comment for this story.
Reester said he expects the contractors to finish the construction of the exhibit site — including fencing, ground leveling, a walkway and signage — in early December.
“I think that there’s a lot of people that are interested in this kind of thing, and we hope to see them here,” Reester said. “From an economic standpoint … more tourism will give a boost to our community, and those are all really good things. It’ll be an ongoing draw, I think.”
The exhibit site will be accessible from the Mary Carter Greenway Trail and Little’s Creek Trail and there will be no public parking on site, Reester said.
There will be wayfinding signs to guide visitors from downtown Littleton and the Littleton Downtown RTD station, which are about half a mile away.
The display will be one of only three of its kind in the country.
Reester said part of the reason the exhibit makes sense in Littleton is because of the city’s connection with the aerospace industry.
“We have a long aerospace history and DISH happens to be one of the leaders in aerospace in Littleton now,” he said.
Aerospace company Lockheed Martin has had a large presence in the Littleton area for decades.
United Launch Alliance, a space launch company that competes with SpaceX, is headquartered in Centennial.
At a July city council meeting, Cantey Ergen, co-founder of DISH Network, said the booster should be on display in Littleton because of the city’s connection to the aerospace industry.
“We all talk about STEM education,” Ergen said. “We all want to excite kids and families and learners to understand technology that our country leads in right now, and we think that for DISH to have the opportunity to do this in partnership with the city of Littleton and the foundation … is something that would be beneficial to the city of Littleton.”
But the company’s relationship to SpaceX is a little bit more complicated, with a history of legal disputes between the companies.
In January, DISH sued SpaceX to try to stop its satellite internet service, Starlink, from launching its next-generation satellite network.
In May, SpaceX won a spectrum dispute with DISH regarding access to the 12GHz spectrum.
But according to Ergen, the companies also work together.
At the July meeting, she said DISH has launched satellites on SpaceX boosters six times.
DISH Network did not respond to recent requests for comment for this story.
DISH’s recent finances
In early November, DISH announced that it will be laying off about 500 Colorado employees in the coming months.
It also reported its third-quarter 2023 finances, which showed revenue totaling $3.70 billion, down from $4.10 billion for the corresponding period in 2022. It reported losing $139 million in the quarter and Forbes reported its shares fell to a 25-year low.
When asked what would happen to the booster if DISH is financially no longer able to maintain it, Reester said the agreement between the city and DISH holds the company responsible.
“This is like a lot of public installations, whether it be art or otherwise,” Reester said. “We felt from the beginning that it was critical for DISH to have maintenance in perpetuity, so our attorneys made sure that that was reflected in the agreement, so that the city didn’t end up with an unexpected future cost that we weren’t planning for.”
Reester said DISH was on board with this agreement from the beginning.
He said that in the case of an acquisition, any potential successor companies would be responsible for the booster.
DISH Network has not responded to recent requests for comment for this story.
Online posts show community members have expressed mixed reviews about the booster so far. Some are excited about the opportunity to see the object up close, while others have deemed it ugly and out-of-place near the natural trails.
There has been a detour in place on Little’s Creek Trail and the Mary Carter Greenway near the exhibit for over two months, Reester said, and the trails will reopen when construction is complete.
Editor’s note: The Telluray Foundation provides funding support for Colorado Community Media.