A decade ago the Texas spaceport scene was relatively active. No fewer than three spaceports had been proposed by various local entities to attract RLVs and other commercial launch vehicles. One was the Gulf Coast Regional Spaceport, located in Brazoria County, south of Houston; the second was the West Texas Spaceport, near Fort Stockton; and the third was the Willacy County Spaceport, located on the Gulf coast north of Brownsville. (A summary of the status of those spaceports at the time can be found in the 2002 edition of the FAA’s “Commercial Space Transportation Developments and Concepts” report.) However, as the RLV boom went bust, these spaceport plans either went dormant or, in the case of the Gulf Coast Regional Spaceport, were cancelled.
Now, through, one of those proposed spaceports may have found new life. A recent article in the McAllen (Tx.) Monitor (which is actually a reprint of one last week in the Valley Morning Star in the Rio Grande Valley) reports that Willacy County officials have found a new tenant for their proposed spaceport. According to the county judge John F. Gonzales Jr., an unnamed aerospace company is planning to lease 50 acres spread across two sites; it would invest up to $50 million for its facilities and hire 100 to 200 people. At least one site would be on the coast, apparently to be used for launches over the Gulf into orbit.
Judge Gonzales, though, declined to disclose the name of the interested company, saying that he was bound by a confidentiality agreement. He did say that the company did test its rockets in December and it “recovered a reusable container similar to 1960s-type space capsules”, according to the article. “They’re the first private company to have successfully launched a low-altitude space flight and successfully recovered it,” Gonzales said. All those comments make the company in question sound like SpaceX: it launched a Falcon 9 in December from Cape Canaveral, placing the Dragon capsule in orbit. That capsule returned to Earth later the same day, making SpaceX the first non-government entity to recover a spacecraft from orbit. However, it’s not clear why SpaceX would have any interest in the Texas site, given its investment in developing its Cape Canaveral site.
Some have suggested that the company in question could be Blue Origin, which already has a test site in west Texas, north of the town of Van Horn. As RLV and Space Transport News pointed out earlier this year, Blue Origin has a patent for a “Sea Landing of Space Launch Vehicles and Associated Systems and Methods”, which covered the powered landing of a booster stage on a barge or other ship in the ocean after launch from a coastal launch site. However, what we know of Blue Origin’s activities don’t seem to match what Gonzales said in the article, but then, there’s a lot about Blue Origin we don’t know about.