SpaceX Breaks Ground on Texas Spaceport

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. held a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 22 for its new Texas commercial launch site, but the company’s chief executive said work to build the facility will not ramp up until the second half of 2015.

SpaceX held the groundbreaking, attended by local officials and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, on the site of the planned spaceport at Boca Chica Beach on the Gulf of Mexico east of here. The site is planned to host launches of the company’s Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy rockets, primarily carrying commercial satellites to geostationary orbit.

“We thank you for having the vision to see that this is where you needed to be,” Perry said to SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk at the event. “The future of South Texas takes off right behind us.”

The groundbreaking ceremony took place a month and a half after Perry announced that SpaceX had agreed to establish its commercial launch facility in Texas, after considering other sites in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. That, in turn, came a month after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation signed off on an environmental impact statement for the proposed launch site that would allow its development to proceed.

In his August announcement, Perry said the state government would be providing $15 million to support construction of the spaceport. However, SpaceX will be providing the bulk of the money needed to build the launch facility. “We expect to spend on the order of about $100 million” during the next three to four years to build the site, Musk said in his remarks at the groundbreaking.

In a press conference after the event, Musk said that even though the groundbreaking was taking place now, construction of the spaceport will not begin until next year. “There will be some advance preparation work here in Boca Chica, but we’ll probably start more significant activity in the third quarter of next year,” he said.

Musk said SpaceX is focused on refurbishing Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the company finalized an agreement with KSC this year to take over operations of the historic launch site. “Once we are finished with the upgrades on Pad 39A, we’re going to take our development team and move them to Boca Chica and work on the launch site here,” he said.

Under that development schedule, Musk said, the first launch from the Texas site could take place as soon as late 2016. SpaceX would like to move launches of commercial geostationary orbit satellites here as soon as the facility is ready in order to reduce the congestion on the range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where SpaceX currently launches those satellites, and to take advantage of the slightly favorable latitude of the Texas site.

Musk reiterated that although SpaceX is developing a Texas site, it has no plans to abandon Florida. SpaceX, he said, will continue to use those facilities primarily for government launches, including commercial crew missions to the international space station under a contract the company won from NASA Sept. 16.

Musk, though, did not rule out using the Texas launch site for non-NASA crewed missions at some point. “I would expect commercial astronauts, private astronauts, to be departing from South Texas,” he said.