Company Considers South Texas for Spaceport
A California company has been buying land in South Texas for a project that could relaunch the rocket business in Texas. Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX for short, has signed big contracts with NASA and with private companies around the world to send equipment and people into space.
SpaceX is considering building its own launch pad at the southern tip of Texas, three miles from the Mexican border on a narrow strip between the mainland and the Gulf. It’s near two state parks and a wildlife refuge.
Why would SpaceX want to launch big rockets from a South Texas bird-watching paradise? The company won’t say, but Brownsville economic development leader Gilberto Salinas says SpaceX explained it to him.
“You’re going to launch in a easterly direction,” Salinas said. “You need to go over a huge body of water. You need to be isolated, and be closer to the equator. So we have all of that, so this is pretty much the perfect scenario for them.”
Salinas is hugely enthusiastic. He says the spaceport is a game changer, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would establish South Texas as the center of America’s space industry.
But not everyone is so excited about the location of the potential launch center. Luke Metzger of Environment Texas calls it a “remarkable ecological area.” His group opposes the project.
“This is a site that is so unique and so special, and literally surrounded by a wildlife refuge,” Metzger said. “Texas is huge; surely they can find another location that won’t jeopardize some critical natural resources.”
But SpaceX has some powerful allies. Gov. Rick Perry’s office is behind the effort. Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed says economic development officials are negotiating intensely. They’ve attended rocket launches and even testified at a federal hearing on SpaceX’s behalf.
“Texas is the best place for SpaceX to be,” Nashed said. “We’ve got a great economic environment that supports job creation, lets employers keep more of what they earn so that they can reinvest their money back into their business and continue to create jobs.”
Nashed would not say whether the state is offering economic incentives.
Space-related businesses are also salivating over SpaceX’s possible expansion in Texas. Tom Pickens runs Astrotech, an Austin business that prepares satellites for launch at places like Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
“As far as Brownsville is concerned, we don’t know what SpaceX plans are there, they’re very nascent at this point,” Pickens said. “And should they like to have our services available there for their satellite customers, we would discuss that with them but we haven’t yet.”
SpaceX already has a Texas presence; it tests its rocket engines near Waco. The company has applied for FAA approval for its Brownsville project. Part of that process is an environmental impact study.
If the FAA gives the OK, SpaceX will decide whether they want to launch from Texas or perhaps one of their sites in Florida, Virginia or Puerto Rico.