Though the news comes as no surprise, it has now been made official: SpaceX will build their commercial space launch site at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Texas. The deal, which came via a press release from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office on Aug. 4, is contingent upon final approval of local agreements and receipt of additional required permits, but those issues aside south Texas can now look forward to watching Falcons fly to space from their shores, bringing 300 new long-term jobs to the area with them.
“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” said Gov. Perry. “In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide a myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”
Just last night SpaceX launched their third commercial mission of 2014 to deliver the AsiaSat-8 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The company expects to launch 12 missions a year through 2025 from the new 100-acre seaside launch site in Texas, which lies 17 miles east-northeast of the Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport and approximately five miles south of South Padre Island. SpaceX will fly both their Falcon-9 v1.1 and Falcon Heavy rockets from Boca Chica Beach for commercial missions, but the company has also emphasized previously that they could launch NASA or government missions from there as well (SpaceX already has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 ISS resupply missions and is in the process of earning Air Force certification to bid on launch contracts for U.S. government missions).
“SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. We appreciate the support of Gov. Perry and numerous other federal, state and local officials who have partnered with us to make this vision a reality,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”
The state has offered SpaceX $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), which is one of the state’s most competitive tools to recruit and bolster business, to bring SpaceX’s new commercial rocket launch facility to Brownsville. The facility, once operational, is expected to pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy. Texas has also offered $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. to support the development of infrastructure necessary for establishing the new launch site.
SpaceX plans to invest $73.6 million into making the new launch site a reality.
“What a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas. It’s the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago,” said Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. “We will ensure that SpaceX has everything they need in order to be successful in the Greater Brownsville Borderplex. The team effort would have never succeeded but for the immense support of the people of Brownsville, all of its surrounding neighbors and the state – to all of you ‘mil gracias’ and watch us soar.”
The news comes a week after SpaceX’s Dogleg Park LLC submitted an application for a permit to install small solar panels off-grid in the vicinity of the proposed launch control center at Boca Chica Beach, with the contractor for the job being one of Elon Musk’s other companies, Solar City. The Brownsville Economic Development Council also recently submitted an application for a commercial permit to construct a 12,000-square-foot tracking center in connection with the BEDC-SpaceX-University of Texas at Brownsville’s Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-Hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission project, also known as STARGATE. The complex would be used to develop, test, and utilize radio frequency technologies for both scientific and commercial purposes, and to track spacecraft.
According to the FAA’s final environmental impact statement for the Texas launch site: “All launch trajectories would be to the east over the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of launches would be conducted between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. However, there could be one nighttime launch per year. The FAA would likely issue launch specific licenses for the first few years of operation of the exclusive launch site. SpaceX may then apply for a launch operator license, which lasts for five years and covers the same family of vehicles.”
Facility and infrastructure construction at the control center area, which will be located two miles west of the launch site, would include the following:
- Two launch control center buildings
- Two payload processing facilities
- Launch vehicle processing hangar
- Two radio frequency transmitter/receivers
- Generators and diesel storage facilities
- Roads, parking areas, fencing, security, lighting, and utilities
- A satellite fuels storage facility
Local law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard will work with SpaceX to carry out unmanned aerial surveillance, manned aerial surveillance, beach sweeps via ATVs and SUVs, and boat patrols offshore to ensure that any unauthorized persons, vessels, trains, aircraft, or other vehicles are not within the hazard area on launch days.
SpaceX expects to conduct their first launch from Boca Chica Beach, Texas, in 2016.