SpaceX has decided it would be easier to build its giant Starship spacecraft in Texas rather than at the Port of Los Angeles in California as originally planned, Alan Boyle reports.
SpaceX says it’ll build and test the prototypes for its next-generation Starship space cruiser and Super Heavy booster in South Texas, despite a deal it struck to build a rocket factory at the Port of Los Angeles.
At least by some accounts, the turnabout is a setback to Los Angeles’ efforts to build a high-tech “Silicon Harbor” at the port, with SpaceX’s planned 18-acre site on Terminal Island as the centerpiece. The Los Angeles City Council approved a 20-year lease agreement with billionaire CEO Elon Musk’s company in May.
“We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” Musk explained today in a tweet.
However, Musk also said development work for Starship and its methane-fueled Raptor engines would continue to be done at SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters. He said any confusion about SpaceX’s plans was due to “our miscommunication.”
SpaceX is building a launch site at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. It is assembling a subscale Starship hopper to conduct atmospheric tests later this year.
After receiving $15.3 million in state assistance, SpaceX is now negotiating with local and regional authorities for additional financial incentives totaling up to $11.7 million for its launch complex south of Brownsville, Texas.
Some good news for SpaceX for its planned commercial spaceport on the Texas coast south of Brownsville:
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessment regarding proposed rocket launches in Cameron County has brought SpaceX another step closer to planting its flag on Boca Chica Beach, officials indicated Thursday.
The proposed rocket launch site has passed its latest round of scrutiny from the federal wildlife agency, which has issued its final opinion to the Federal Aviation Administration, according to documents released on the FAA’s website.
The USFWS’s opinion is that rocket launches would “not likely jeopardize” endangered species in Cameron County. In the report, the agency suggested measures to avoid or minimize what it described as minimal risks to wildlife and habitat…
The USFWS opinion seemingly clears many of the remaining environmental questions that faced SpaceX’s goal of staging commercial rocket launches on an approximately 50-acre lot near Boca Chica Beach that neighbors wildlife refuge area managed by federal and state officials.
A group has started a petition urging SpaceX to find another place to launch its Falcon rockets other than Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas.
To: Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies (Space X)
This south Texas site which you have selected for your rocket launch facility is surrounded by federally protected land, home to threatened and endangered species. It borders the ecologically essential South Bay of the Laguna Madre, the nation’s only hypersaline lagoon, a nursery for shrimp and coastal fish.
Please choose another location for your rocket launch site.
Over on the El Rrun Rrun blog, Juan Montoya says that it’s not just environmental concerns that should block SpaceX from building a launch facility near the beach. He also accuses local officials of over hyping the number of jobs created and the resulting economic benefits while offering too much in subsidies to SpaceX.
A quick roundup of spaceport news around the globe:
Las Cruces, NM: With commercial Virgin Galactic flights from Spaceport America delayed until at least August 2014, New Mexico taxpayers will have to spend an extra $6.9 million to pay for the paving of a southern road to the remote site. That amount has been diverted from the road budget to cover operations.
Albuquerque, NM: Viewing increased spaceport competition from other states, the editors of the Albuquerque Journal fear their state could lose its advantages.
“In down-to-earth terms, New Mexico has impressive natural and man-made leads in this next space race, the editors write. “So it is vital not to squander them. Because not only do New Mexico taxpayers have hundreds of millions at stake in Spaceport America’s success, but plenty of other states want to enter that orbit.”
Brownsville, Texas: Cameron County commissioners met in closed session to discuss economic incentives designed to develop a commercial spaceport for SpaceX. The California company is leaning toward the Texas site, but it is awaiting the results of a review by the Federal Aviation Administration.
London, England: An English think tank believes that the nation should establish spaceports to serve the suborbital market and develop the capabilities to do microgravity research aboard these ships.
Speaking at the International Space Commerce Summit in London today, Dan Lewis, Energy Policy Adviser at the Institute of Directors, said…the UK should seize the opportunity brought about by companies such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR or Blue Origin.
“We should capitalise on the deep local research culture,” Lewis said. “The progress in sub-orbital vehicle technology is moving faster than previously foreseen and can change the current dynamics of the space industry. We need to start thinking seriously about these opportunities,” he said, suggesting that in addition to the existing telecommunications and satellite research centres, UK universities should consider establishing dedicated sub-orbital technology research centres.
Video Caption: Can this coastal launch site drive commercial development of the Solar System’s frontiers? Gilberto Salinas, Executive VP, Brownsville Economic Development Corporation, discusses a pending SpaceX private spaceport with SPACE.com’s @DavidSkyBrody.
Rio Grande Gaurdian reports that Texas State Sen. Eddie Lucio has placed a rider worth $15 million in the budget to help lure SpaceX to the Lone Star State:
“One of the things I am particularly proud of is the $15 million I put in the budget as a rider that will set us up for SpaceX. It was done at the very end and I worked with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams on it,” Lucio told the Guardian.
The Texas State Senate Committee on Administration has approved a measure that would allow officials to close Boca Chica Beach to allow for SpaceX to launch Falcon rockets from a proposed launch complex near Brownsville. The approval paves the way for a vote in the full Senate, where approval is expected.
The measure had been held up for two days after John Whitmire, D-Houston, raised concerns about setting a precedent by closing a public beach for a private company. Whitmire’s concerns were addressed and he now supports the legislation, according to media reports.
The Brownsville Herald reports that more than 500 people attended a public hearing last night to hear the results of the FAA’s preliminary environmental impact statement on SpaceX’s proposed launch facility:
Of those gathered at the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center Tuesday night, dozens shared their views on the project, which showed a general consensus of cautious optimism that the project — which aims to construct a vertical rocket launch site at the eastern end of State Highway 4 — will bring jobs while making a minimal impact on the environment.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk testified before the Texas House Appropriations Committee on Friday concerning the company’s proposed launch facility near Brownsville. Here are the highlights:
Musk said Texas still is the leading candidate for a SpaceX launch site. “It all seems to be progressing pretty well. We are optimistic about making this work in Texas in the Boca Chica area. It is looking quite good. Any support that Texas can offer would obviously be helpful.”
Texas has one of four sites SpaceX is considering. The others are in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico.
[Rep. Rene] Oliveira has said Texas is prepared to offer $3.2 million via its economic development arm. Another $3 million could be available through local incentives, the legislator has said.
Since the Texas Legislature has only until May to meet, Oliveira said the state needs to approve an incentive package before then. Texas faces a time disadvantage because the Florida and Georgia legislatures will still be in session when Texas’ session ends, he said.
Musk’s proposed Boca Chica spaceport would be a much larger operation, capable of launching at least 12 rockets a year.
Musk said the company will continue to build its Falcon 9 rockets in California, but when it begins manufacturing rockets larger than the Falcon 9, they would be built at or near the launch site. “The logical thing is to build near the launch site,” he said. “That is something that will occur wherever the launch site occurs.”
Eventually, Musk told lawmakers Friday, the site could become the primary hub for company flights ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station and well-heeled tourists into the stars.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry prides himself on running a state government that is lean, with light regulations and low taxes to attract employers. This business friendly approach appears to be complicating efforts to put together a financial package that will convince SpaceX to locate a commercial launch facility near Brownsville.
An underfunded education system and health care reform are just a sample of the issues facing lawmakers in the upcoming session. With the University of Texas Board of Regents also pushing to accelerate creation of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, the proposed space venture will not even be the biggest local economic development cause.
SpaceX has been purchasing additional tracts of land near where it would like to construct a commercial launch complex for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. In related news, the FAA expects to complete an environmental impact statement on the proposed location near Brownsville, Texas in January.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. purchased two more properties on Election Day Nov. 6 on the steps of the Cameron County Judicial Building on East Harrison Street, according to public records.
The Brownsville Herald reports that SpaceX has been purchasing land in Cameron County, Texas, near where it is considering building a private launch complex for its Falcon rockets:
However, local officials emphasized that this does not mean SpaceX has made the decision to settle here. “But it is a good sign,” Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said.
Other than the property that SpaceX is said to have placed options on, the firm this year has purchased at least three lots in the Spanish Dagger Subdivision under the name Dogleg Park LLC, The Herald found in public documents.
The state of Florida is looking to develop a commercial launch site at NASA Kennedy Space Center that is most likely intended for use by SpaceX, Florida Today reports:
In a letter sent Thursday to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll requested 150 acres of undeveloped land at the northern end of the space center, near the former citrus community of Shiloh.
With Federal Aviation Administration approval, the proposed launch site would operate outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Range, which provides safety and tracking support for all launches from KSC and Cape Canaveral.
It looks like we’ve got a bidding war going for the location of SpaceX’s commercial spaceport:
Sanchez said at Thursday’s Commissioners Court meeting that the BEDC [Brownsville Economic Development Council] and the state are offering SpaceX $3 million each for a total of $6 million in efforts to attract the business to Cameron County. He said Florida is offering $10 million.
“We’re behind in the race,” Sanchez said at the meeting.
Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have long been reported as candidates for the SpaceX project.
SpaceX spokeswoman Katherine Nelson on Thursday stated the following: “SpaceX is continuing to look at all possibilities for a private launch facility, including sites in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. We are still in the early stages of the review process.”