SpaceX moving ahead with Texas spaceport plan

Map of SpaceX spaceport site

Map of the coast of South Texas, with the approximate location of the proposed SpaceX launch site marked with the blue circle on the coast. The city of Brownsville is in the lower left.

Last summer there was a flurry of speculation about an unnamed company interested in a spaceport in south Texas, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. That speculation later focused on SpaceX, which hinted it was looking at alternatives to Florida for commercial launches, but offered few additional details.

On Monday a notice issued by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and published in the Federal Register gave new life to that Texas spaceport concept. The FAA issued a “notice of intent” to start work on an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed launch site in south Texas; such an assessment is part of the work required to get a launch site operator (aka spaceport) license from the FAA. The statement explicitly identifies SpaceX as the user of the spaceport for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as “a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles” that would likely be technology demonstrators for the company’s plans to develop a reusable version of the Falcon 9.

The spaceport will be located on the Gulf Coast at the end of Texas Highway 4, five kilometers north of the Mexican border and eight kilometers south of the spring break destination of South Padre Island. The site would carry out up to 12 launches per year, including up to two Falcon Heavy launches. The launch site infrastructure would be straightforward: a launch pad and integration hangar at the site itself, and a control center and payload processing facility an unspecified distance to the west of the launch pad. All the land and infrastructure would be owned by SpaceX.

The timeline for the environmental assessment isn’t specified in the register, beyond holding a “scoping meeting” for the EIS in Brownsville on May 15; there is also a May 30 deadline for comments regarding the EIS planning process. An EIS can take many months to complete, and that is only part of the process needed to win approval for a spaceport license. So it may be a while before we know if SpaceX is able to, and still interested in, pursuing a launch site there.

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