SpaceX Looks to Build Commercial Spaceport in Texas


Some big news just in (via Clark Lindsey over at Hobby Space) that SpaceX is looking to build a commercial spaceport on the Gulf Coast in Cameron County, Texas. The news came in a published notice that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the plan.

Under the Proposed Action, SpaceX proposes to construct a vertical launch area and a control center area to support up to 12 commercial launches per year. The vehicles to be launched include the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (up to two per year), and a variety of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles. SpaceX would be required to apply for the appropriate launch licenses and/or experimental permits to be issued by the FAA.

SpaceX had been looking at sites at various potential sites, including ones in Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Company officials have said they plan to operate out of Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base as well. A third, commercial launch site frees them from range restrictions that exist at the other two locations.

Cameron County sits on the Texas' southern border with Mexico. (Credit: Google Maps)

According to the FAA notice

The location of SpaceX's proposed private spaceport. (Credit: Google Maps)

The proposed vertical launch area site is currently undeveloped and is located directly adjacent to the eastern terminus of Texas State Highway 4 (Boca Chica Boulevard) and approximately 3 miles north of the Mexican border on the Gulf Coast. It is located approximately 5 miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island….

The control center area would be located inland to the west of the vertical launch area and would include: a control center building and a payload processing facility; it might also include a launch vehicle preparation hangar and satellite fuels storage. All facilities would be constructed on private land owned or leased by SpaceX.

Full details about the plan from the FAA notice are excerpted below. You can download the full document here.

The Proposed Action is for the FAA to issue launch licenses and/or experimental permits to SpaceX that would allow SpaceX to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles and a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles from a launch site on privately-owned property in Cameron County, Texas. The Falcon 9 orbital vertical launch vehicle is a medium-lift class launch vehicle with a gross lift-off weight of approximately 1,000,000 pounds (lbs) with a maximum length of 230 feet (ft). The Falcon 9 uses liquid oxygen (LOX) and highly refined kerosene, also known as rocket propellant-1 or refined petroleum-1 (RP-1), as propellants to carry payloads into orbit. The Falcon Heavy is similar to the Falcon 9, except it has an additional two boosters “strapped on,” each booster being almost identical to the Falcon 9 first stage core. The Falcon Heavy is a heavy lift class launch vehicle with a gross lift-off weight of approximately 3,400,000 lbs. It has an overall maximum length of approximately 230 ft. A reusable suborbital launch vehicle could consist of a Falcon 9 Stage 1 tank with a maximum propellant (RP-1 and LOX) load of approximately 6,900 gallons.

As part of the Proposed Action, SpaceX proposes to construct a vertical launch area and a control center area. The proposed vertical launch area site is currently undeveloped and is located directly adjacent to the eastern terminus of Texas State Highway 4 (Boca Chica Boulevard) and approximately 3 miles north of the Mexican border on the Gulf Coast. It is located approximately 5 miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. At the vertical launch area, the new facilities required would include: an integration- and processing-hangar, a launch pad and stand with its associated flame duct, propellant storage and handling areas, a workshop and office area, and a warehouse for parts storage.

The control center area would be located inland to the west of the vertical launch area and would include: a control center building and a payload processing facility; it might also include a launch vehicle preparation hangar and satellite fuels storage. All facilities would be constructed on private land owned or leased by SpaceX. The development of access and supporting utility infrastructure for the vertical launch area and the control center area may occur on lands outside that which is owned or leased by SpaceX.

Operations would consist of up to 12 launches per year with a maximum of two Falcon Heavy launches. All Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches would be expected to have commercial payloads, including satellites or experimental payloads. In addition to standard payloads, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy may also carry a capsule, such as the SpaceX Dragon capsule. All launch trajectories would be to the east over the Gulf of Mexico.

A public meeting has been schedule for May 15.

Scoping Meetings

A public scoping meeting will be held to solicit input from the public on potential issues that may need to be evaluated in the EIS. The scoping meeting will be held on May 15, 2012 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center (ITEC Center), located at 301 Mexico Blvd. G-1, Brownsville, Texas 78520. The meeting format will include an open-house workshop from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The FAA will provide an overview of the environmental process from 6:00 pm to 6:15 pm followed by a public comment period from 6:15 pm to 8:00 pm.