FAA Approves SpaceX Launch Complex in Texas

Artist's conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.
Artist’s conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved SpaceX’s plan to build a spaceport south of Brownsville, Texas, to launch Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and suborbital rockets.

In its record of decision, the FAA said that while the environmentally preferable alternative would be to reject the application and having nothing constructed in the beachfront area, the option is not in keeping with the agency’s purpose.

“The No Action Alternative is not the FAA’s Preferred Alternative because it is not consistent with the purpose and need for action, including the FAA’s statutory direction from Congress under the Commercial Space Launch Act to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launch and reentry activities by the private sector in order to strengthen and expand U.S. space transportation infrastructure,” the report states.

The decision includes a series of steps and actions the FAA said would mitigate the impacts on local residents, wildlife and historic sites.

“The FAA determined that SpaceX’s proposal, as modified to incorporate the avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures described below and in Chapter 6 of the Final EIS, constitutes the FAA’s Preferred Alternative,” the decision states. “Adoption of this alternative will result in the construction and operation of a private launch site that is consistent with the purpose and need for the Proposed Action, while at the same time avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the harm to the environment.”

SpaceX plans to construct its spaceport on 68.9 acres of land adjacent to the village of Boca Chica and south of Brownsville.  The site is located approximately 3 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The approval would allow SpaceX to launch up to 12 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets annually through 2025.

Within the 12 launch operations per year, SpaceX may elect to have permitted launches of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles from this proposed site. A reusable suborbital launch vehicle could consist of a Falcon 9 Stage 1 tank,” the statement reads.

  • Hug Doug

    Excellent.

  • Robert Gishubl

    Site for testing the F9R, will they fly back here or land on the cape? But good news either way.

  • Tonya

    That questions has come up many times, they’d fly back as the cape is too far away. Even if it were nearer, they’d never get permission to land flying over Florida, because of all the pesky people living there!

    It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes them to get approval to do a landing at the cape from the launches that start there.

  • mattmcc80

    F9R testing will be done at Spaceport America, where they have large quantities of unpopulated land around them.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Shotwell/Musk have said on several occasions how open Range Control is to landings. Based on that, it’s probably simply a matter of how long it takes to work through their testing programs at McGregor and New Mexico.

    Now Texas is sorted, I’m wondering how long it will be before they start looking for the next launch site and where it will be. Puerto Rico would give them a free increase in lift capacity.

  • windbourne

    I keep thinking that the ideal place to land is on an abandoned oil platform. There are plenty of them there, and it would not take huge amounts of money to fix 1-3 of these up.

  • windbourne

    So, how soon before the first launch?

  • mattmcc80

    In the final version of the environmental impact statement for, they’ve all but ruled out the Puerto Rico site that had been under consideration.

    http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/environmental/nepa_docs/review/documents_progress/spacex_texas_launch_site_environmental_impact_statement/media/FEIS_SpaceX_Texas_Launch_Site_Vol_I.pdf

    2.3.1.1 Puerto Rico

    Within Puerto Rico, SpaceX looked at several sites, with the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station being the most reasonable from a trajectory standpoint. However, SpaceX eliminated this alternative from further analysis because it did not meet Criterion 5, due to the logistical challenge of transporting SpaceX hardware from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico. Additionally, the sites that were identified within Roosevelt Roads had other issues, including the need to build road networks through wetlands (Criteria 5 and 12), potential residential development in the area (Criterion 4), and extensive required environmental cleanup before conveyance (Criteria 9 and 12).

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    How difficult would it be for launch crews to move between pads? Anyone given any thought to this potential approach to multiple pads or is it a complete non-starter?
    Edit: I’m thinking of efficient utilisation of key resources, i.e. your specialist launch crew.
    Cheers.

  • windbourne

    hmmm. I would suspect that at some point, they can keep their launch crew in one location. They will still need ppl at each site, but perhaps having a single launch control might be cheaper.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I was just impatiently speculating where they might look to expand to next.
    I realise they’ve rejected Puerto Rico for now, though that report excerpt don’t look promising. They’ve also rejected Shiloh, Georgia and others. But down the line they will be wanting more launch sites and more factories and/or assembly-plants. At the moment, it’s build everything at Hawthorne a then carry it by road. That will have to change for their expansion and BFR plans to occur.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Surely the aim is to considerably increase the traffic at all (and more) launch pads and at the same time introduce as much automation as possible into the integration and launch process. The ambition is to make the launch procedure simple to the point of mundane.

  • Hug Doug

    The planned layout for this site is very similar to what they have at Vandenberg and LC-40 in Canaveral, i.e. a large building for horizontal integration from which they just roll out the rocket to the launch pad. So actual physical operations should be very similar for each site.

    http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/vandenberg.jpg

    http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/styles/media_gallery_large/public/launchpad_aerial_cape.jpg?itok=yWCSm9YA

    One would assume they would use the same launch monitoring software at all launch sites, etc. as well. I do know that SpaceX’s “mission control” is at its Hawthorne location, all SpaceX missions are run from there,like NASA does from Houston.

  • Hug Doug

    are there even any oil platforms (either in-use or abandoned) in the rocket’s normal flight paths?

  • windbourne

    Hmmm.
    That makes it fast and cheaper to set up.
    But, that also means that it might be possible to move some ppl around.
    Bean might be onto things.

  • windbourne

    You know, just thinking about this, FAA will only allow 1 launch / month, of which only 2 / year can be FH.
    Yet, IIRC, they are looking at doing up to 1 launch / week. Basically, this site will not be a large % of their launches.
    Seems like a lot of money for this.

  • Paul451
  • Hug Doug

    those are too far away. the first stage coasts about 400 km from the launch site, so it needs to be within a 400 km radius.

    and also on (or very close to) a straight-line path with the direction that the rocket is going.

  • windbourne

    from Texas to Florida? Absolutely.

  • windbourne

    oops. Good posting.

  • windbourne

    I see a number of them that will work. As to being in a straight line, with those fins, it can easily head northwards a bit and hit easily into that mass. After all, it is now being asked to head BACKWARDS.

  • Hug Doug

    the critical criteria are a. they must be less than 400 km from Brownsville, and b. they must be along the inclinations that the rockets will launch at.

    diverting significantly from its ballistic course eliminates the benefit of landing downrange.

    “that mass” posted by Paul is at least 150 km too far away and is not even close to the inclinations that they will launch at.

  • Burke Burnett

    Do we know for a fact that FH will, like F9, also be assembled horizontally?

    Also, do we know where SpaceX has in mind to launch the (proposed) Raptor-based super heavy lifter? I have read that Shotwell suggested 39A wasn’t large enough (!), so if that is true, and the rocket actually happens (another assumption), would they use TX and start constructing a larger pad there?

  • Paul451

    those are too far away.

    Que? Of the 4000 or so oil rigs in the Gulf, about 2-300 are within your radius. That would include a fair few retired-in-place rigs from the ’70s that are roughly in the right trajectories.

    [The newer deeper rigs are all FPS’s, so are likely towed between sites rather than RIP’ed. However, the floating bases aren’t the expensive part, so it should be possible to buy a couple of brand new small FPS bases from a manufacturer, and slap on hardened tops for landing instead of oil processing systems. Might be cheaper than refurbishing a RIP’ed rig.]

    The real issue is whether the logistics issues of landing on a sea platform (and transporting back to the processing site) outweighs the 30% payload cost from the vastly cheaper RTLS. I expect it does.

  • Hug Doug

    well, the ones in your picture aren’t… i have no idea where the oil rigs in the gulf are located, which ones aren’t in use, and which of those are in the right locations to be the appropriate distance downrange from various launch inclinations. i’m sure with 4,000 data points, a few should be close enough just by coincidence.

    i know it’s possible for SpaceX to land downrange on an old oil platform, but, yeah, the logistics and the cost associated with having to transport the rockets back to the launch site are the key factors to that.

  • Hug Doug

    FH will use the same strongback as the F9, and so it will be rolled out from the assembly hangar on the strongback’s platform.

    39A is definitely not large enough for the Raptor-based super heavy lift rocket… they will need a purpose-built launch site for that behemoth.

    however, since it’s not even close to being off the drawing board, speculation about a launch site is a bit premature.