Giant Pile of Dirt Marks SpaceX’s Texas Launch Site

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor's Office)
Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Steve Clark of The Brownsville Herald reports that SpaceX’s biggest challenge at its future launch site in Texas is stabilizing the soil.

The purpose is to raise and stabilize the area before actual construction of the launch pad and associated buildings begins. The technical term is “soil surcharging.”

When the final load is delivered, 310,000 cubic yards of soil will have been brought in, enough to cover a football field 13 stories high, according to the Hawthorne, California-based aerospace company.

Launch pads require very stable soil, since rockets are very heavy and hangar foundations must not crack. Surcharging is a much more cost-effective solution than, say, driving steel beams or pouring 200-foot concrete pillars, though it does take longer.

Once the mountain of dirt is in place it will be graded, then allowed to settle for a period time. After that, it’s expected actual construction of the launch pad will move quickly, according to the company. Until then, a steady parade of dump trucks rumbles to and from the site as the artificial plateau grows taller.

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk had hoped to launch the first Falcon 9 from the site near the Mexican border in 2016. That date has now slipped to 2018.

About $30 Million in Incentives for SpaceX’s Texas Launch Facility

Rendering of SpaceX's Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)
Rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)

The Valley Morning Star estimates that financial incentives for SpaceX’s spaceport in Texas stand at “about $30 million.” The funding includes:

The McAllen City Commission, as recommended by the McAllen Economic Development Corp., pitched in with $500,000 and the Point Isabel ISD Board of Trustees approved an agreement in exchange for an eight-year limitation on the taxable property value for that portion of the taxes for maintenance and operations, not for debt service.

The Harlingen City Commission, as recommended by the Harlingen Economic Development Corp., provided $450,000; the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. provided $5 million; Cameron County provided a tax abatement with a value up to $1.4 million; the state is providing $15.3 million; the Cameron County Space Port Development Corp. submitted an application for $1 million from the Texas Department of Agriculture and another $9 million was pitched to advance STARGATE, including $4.4 million from the state, $4.6 million from the University of Texas System, and $500,000 from GBIC.

STARGATE, which would be the first research center for the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, will be a cooperative effort to develop and support phased-array technology for satellite and space vehicle communication.

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