SpaceX founder Elon Musk hasn’t yet formally announced South Texas as the site of his company’s private launch facility, but officials in Florida are conceding that Texas is going to land the coveted project.
Dale Ketcham is director of strategic alliances for Space Florida, a state-run agency focused on bringing promoting aerospace-related economic development in Florida. Ketcham told reporters in Florida that he expects SpaceX to announce as soon as this week that a site on the Texas coast, near Brownsville, is the choice to build the new commercial launch complex.
“We kind of have known it’s coming for a while,” Ketcham told TV station Bay News 9. “But it’s still going to be traumatic and not insignificant disappointment. It is naive for us to assume the loss of SpaceX commercial activity to Texas is not a significant blow to our plans and our future.”
SpaceX last week cleared a Federal Aviation Administration environmental review for the Texas site, which is at Boca Chica, a remote beach surrounded by wildlife areas about 20 miles east of Brownsville. While SpaceX will have additional permitting procedures to go through for the site and will need to meet national security, safety and insurance requirements, some experts say the FAA approval was the final key hurdle for the Texas site. South Texas has been competing with Florida and Georgia for the launch site, although Musk has portrayed Texas as the front-runner since he testified to the Legislature in 2013.
SpaceX will continue its NASA-funded launches at Cape Canaveral in Florida, but Musk envisions a commercial spaceport focused on business from companies and foreign governments as well as space tourism. SpaceX is expected to continue building its Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy rockets at its Hawthorne, Calif., plant, but Texas officials hope the next generation of larger rockets will have to be built closer to the launch site because they will be too big to transport long distances over highways.
In 2013, the Legislature changed the law to make it easier for SpaceX to operate in Texas.
Under the new state law, SpaceX could launch rockets up to 12 times a year, mostly between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but not on weekends or holidays unless the company can show local and state authorities that scrubbing a launch would cause significant business consequences. At least one nighttime launch would be allowed per year.
Meanwhile, Austin and other Texas communities are trying to capture their share of the private sector’s interest in space exploration and private space flight — what is now being called NewSpace.
In Austin, 15 academic and industry leaders, including a former NASA executive, are studying whether Central Texas can leverage its technology expertise to become a space economy hub as the private sector assumes a greater role in transporting people, goods and satellites into space.