Space

April 19, 2012

SpaceX plans its own launch site in Texas

by Raphael Jaffe
staff writer
NASA image
An artists' impression of the Dragon approaching the International Space Station's grappling arm.

SpaceX announced last November that it was considering sites in Alaska, California, Florida, Texas and Virginia to build its own launch site.

April 10, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation announced it will prepare an environmental impact statement for a SpaceX commercial launch complex in Brownsville, Texas, for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy operations, including those carrying supplies to the International Space Station.

FAA plans a May 15 presentation and hearing in Brownsville as part of the scoping process.

There would be as many as 12 launches each year using the Falcon 9, with up to two of the Falcon Heavy. In addition, SpaceX might have several suborbital launches of their Grasshopper rocket.

The Grasshopper is a vertical takeoff-vertical landing rocket. It will consist of a Falcon 9 first stage tank, a single Merlin-1D engine, four steel landing legs and a support structure, plus other pressurization tanks, all attached to the support structure and will be 106 feet tall.

“SpaceX is considering multiple potential locations around the country for a new launch pad for commercial payloads. The Brownsville area is one of the possibilities,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said. “It would be a few years before any location could be ready for launches.”

The company is currently developing a new launch complex at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., for the Falcon Heavy, which according to plans would have the greatest lift capacity of any U.S. rocket since the Apollo Saturn system. Their SLC 40 launch site at Cape Canaveral is readying for launch of Dragon to the ISS, using Falcon 9 for the third time. They also use their newly built rocket engine ground test facility near McGregor, Texas. It is about 429 miles north of Brownsville.

Brownsville lies on the western Gulf of Mexico at the Mexican border. The proposed launch site is on an undeveloped tract within close proximity of the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport at the terminus of State Highway 4. There is water access to the site.

The facility would include an integration and processing hangar, launch pad with flame duct, propellant storage and handling area, workshop, and warehouse and office complex. There would be a launch control center and payload processing facility just to the west of the launch site. Launch trajectories would follow an easterly course over the Gulf of Mexico.

Locating a major facility in Texas would be a shrewd move by SpaceX. Its future largely relies on commercial space projects, such as astronaut transport to the space station. Texas seems to dominate the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, with five members, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson has been one of Commercial Crew’s strongest critics. Bringing a major investment into their state may allay their fears of a declining role for Texas in space.

SpaceX has already discussed its plans with the Brownsville Independent School District. They have said that an educational center would be built. It would also be possible for the district to invite SpaceX employees to make presentations at the local schools. They have also sent information to homeowners at Boca Chica beach. SpaceX is thus building local support in advance of the Environmental Impact Assesment.

 




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