SpaceX private launch site

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The SpaceX private launch site is a proposed space launch facility for the private use of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). Its purpose is "to provide SpaceX an exclusive launch site that would allow the company to accommodate its launch manifest and meet tight launch windows."[1] The launch facility is intended to support launches of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles as well as "a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles."[1]

During 2012 through mid-2014, SpaceX was considering seven potential locations around the United States for the new commercial launch pad. For much of this period, a parcel of land adjacent to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas was the leading candidate location, during an extended period while the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted an extensive environmental assessment on the use of the Texas location as a launch site. Also during this period, SpaceX began acquiring land in the area, purchasing approximately 41 acres (17 ha) and leasing 57 acres (23 ha) by July 2014.

With the final environmental assessment completed and environmental agreements in place by July 2014, the south Texas location is the one SpaceX is likely to pursue,[2][3] although, as of 11 July 2014 SpaceX has not yet made a formal announcement following the release of the environmental regulatory documents.[4][5]

SpaceX expects to start construction on the new launch facility no earlier than 2014, with the first launches from the facility no earlier than 2016.[6] If it is built, it would become SpaceX's fourth active launch facility.

History[edit]

Private discussions between SpaceX and various state officials about a future private launch site began at least as early as 2011,[7] and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk mentioned interest in a private launch site for their commercial launches in a speech on September 29, 2011.[8]

Launch site selection and environmental assessment regulatory process[edit]

In April 2012, potential locations that were publically known included "sites in Alaska, California, Florida,[9] Texas and Virginia."[10]

In September 2012, it became clear that Georgia and Puerto Rico were also interested in pursuing the new SpaceX commercial spaceport facility.[11] The Camden County, Georgia Joint Development Authority voted unanimously in November 2012 to "explore developing an aero-spaceport facility" at an Atlantic coastal site to support both horizontal and vertical launch operations.[12] The main Puerto Rico site under consideration at the time was land that was formerly Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.[13]

By September 2012, SpaceX was considering a total of seven potential locations for the new commercial launch pad around the United States. For much of the time since, the leading candidate location for the new facility was a parcel of land adjacent to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas.

Regional location of the proposed SpaceX Texas launch facility, from the FAA draft EIS, April 2013.

From the beginning, one of the proposed locations for the new commercial-mission-only[1] spaceport was south Texas, which was revealed in April 2012 via preliminary regulatory documentation. The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation initiated a Notice of Intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement[14] and public hearings on the new launch site, which would be located in Cameron County, Texas. The site would support up to 12 commercial launches per year, including two Falcon Heavy launches.[15] "Before anything could be done on the project, an environmental impact statement, a public scoping period and a public scoping meeting would need to be held."[16] Although preliminary environmental assessment regulatory documents were filed for the south Texas location, that site has not yet been selected by SpaceX as the site for construction.[10] The first public meeting was held in May 2012.[16] [17]

As of March 2013, Texas remained the leading candidate for the location of the new SpaceX commercial launch facility, although Florida, Georgia and other locations also remained in the running. Legislation was introduced in the Texas Legislature to enable temporary closings of State beaches during launches, limit liability for noise and some other specific commercial spaceflight risks, as well as considering a package of incentives to encourage SpaceX to locate at the Brownsville, Texas location.[6][18] A US$15 million incentive package was approved by the Texas Legislature.[19][verification needed] The Texas incentive package had been under consideration since early 2012.[17]

Map showing proposed locations of the control center and vertical launch area at the Texas facility, from the FAA draft EIS, April 2013.

The FAA Draft EIA identified three parcels of land—total of 12.4 acres (5.0 ha)—that would notionally be used for the control center. In addition, SpaceX had leased 56.6 acres (22.9 ha) of land adjacent to the terminus of Texas State Highway 4, 20 acres (8.1 ha) of which would be used to develop the vertical launch area; the remainder would remain open space surrounding the launch facility.[1]

The FAA released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the location in south Texas in April 2013, and "found that 'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations near Brownsville."[20] The FAA will not issue a permit until after public hearings are completed and the draft report becomes final, expected in late 2013[20] but actually not released by the FAA until July 2014.

A public hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was held on May 7, 2013, at the International Technology Education and Commerce Center in Brownsville.[20] The public comment period ended on June 24,[21] and the final EIS had been expected to be released before the end of 2013.[22][23] In January 2014, the FAA stated that they expect to have "the final Environmental Impact Statement on the Boca Chica site ready for public release by late this winter."[24]

In early July 2014 the FAA officially issued its Record of Decision concerning the Boca Chica Beach facility, and found that "the proposal by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies would have no significant impact on the environment,"[25] approving the proposal and outlining SpaceX’s proposal. This latest clearance allows SpaceX to apply for licenses from the FAA to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch rockets, which also could carry the Dragon capsule, and a variety of smaller, reusable sub-orbital launch vehicles from the Boca Chica site."[25]

July 9, 2014, "the Federal Aviation Administration[]approved SpaceX’s proposal to develop the world’s first private commercial vertical launch site in Cameron County. FAA on Wednesday issued its Record of Decision, a critical step that paves the way toward licensing launch activity at Boca Chica Beach. Finding that the proposal by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies would have no significant impact on the environment, the Record of Decision explains why it approved the proposal and outlines SpaceX’s proposal. It also identifies actions the FAA and other federal agencies must take, explains the alternatives analyzed and which one is environmentally preferred, and identifies the measures required for mitigation."[25]

The FAA Draft EIA identified three parcels of land—total of 12.4 acres (5.0 ha)—that would notionally be used for the control center. In addition, SpaceX has leased 56.6 acres (22.9 ha) of land adjacent to the terminus of Texas State Highway 4, 20 acres (8.1 ha) of which would be used to develop the vertical launch area; the remainder would remain open space.[1]

In September 2013, the State of Texas General Land Office (GLO) and Cameron County signed an agreement outlining how beach closures would be handled in order to support a future SpaceX launch schedule. The agreement is intended to enable both economic development in Cameron County and protect the public’s right to have access to Texas state beaches. Beach closures would be allowed only on specific dates, and could not exceed a maximum of 15 hours per closure date, with no more than three scheduled space flights between the Saturday prior to Memorial Day and Labor Day, unless GLO approves the launch dates.[23]

Land acquisition[edit]

Prior to a final decision on the location of the spaceport, SpaceX began purchasing a number of real estate properties in Cameron County, Texas beginning as early as June 2012.[21] By July 2014, SpaceX had purchased approximately 41 acres (17 ha) and leased 57 acres (23 ha) near Boca Chica Village and Boca Chica Beach.[26]

Prior to May 2013, five lots in the Spanish Dagger Subdivision in Boca Chica Village, adjacent to Highway 4 which leads to the proposed launch site, had been purchased. In May 2013, SpaceX purchased an additional three parcels, adding another 1 acre (0.40 ha),[21] plus four more lots with a total of 1.9 acres (0.77 ha) in July 2013, making a total of 12 SpaceX-purchased lots.[19] In November 2013, SpaceX substantially "increased its land holdings in the Boca Chica Beach area from 12 lots to 72 undeveloped lots" purchased, which encompass a total of approximately 24 acres (9.7 ha), in addition to the 56.5 acres (22.9 ha) leased from private property owners.[22] An additional few acres were purchased late in 2013, raising the SpaceX total "from 72 undeveloped lots to 80 lots totaling about 26 acres."[24] In late-2013, SpaceX completed a replat of 13 lots totaling 8.3 acres (3.4 ha) into a subdivision that they have named "Mars Crossing."[27] In early 2014, they purchased 28 additional lots that surround the proposed complex at Boca Chica Beach, raising the SpaceX-owned land to approximately 36 acres (15 ha) in addition to the 56-acre lease.[27]

Purchases of land in the area have been made since 2012 through a subsidiary company, The Flats at Mars Crossing , which then transferred the property to Dogleg Park LLC, another SpaceX owned company.[citation needed]

Beyond Texas[edit]

SpaceX has indicated on several occasions that they will need more than the four launch sites currently in active use or in process. Discussions continue for future launch facility locations beyond Texas.

Georgia and Florida proposals[edit]

For both the Camden County, Georgia location, and for the new non-NASA, non-USAF Florida location for commercial launches being considered by Space Florida, the local governmental entities are pursuing Environmental Impact Assessments on their own. The Camden County Joint Development Authority has contracted for an EIS on 200 acres (81 ha) of authority-owned land, part of a larger 4,200 acres (1,700 ha) site. In Florida, Space Florida has initiated an EIS for a site on a portion of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.[28][29] The Space Florida economic development agency is actively working to change the infrastructure and land use regulations on the space coast in order to attract private launch operators to build non-governmental launch facilities in Florida.[3]

Economic impact[edit]

SpaceX is expected to invest approximately US$100 million in the development and construction of the facility, and "create hundreds of jobs."[18]

Launch facility overview[edit]

Vertical launch area of the proposed SpaceX Texas facility, from the FAA draft EIS, April 2013.

The new private launch site would be SpaceX' fourth active orbital launch facility, and its first private facility. SpaceX currently leases three US government-owned launch sites: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 in California are operational, while they are currently modifying Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A just a few miles north of their existing Florida pad at LC40 on the adjacent Air Force Station.[30]

SpaceX also has one suborbital facility currently in use, the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in Texas, with an additional high-altitude suborbital test facility under construction in New Mexico.[31]

New private facility[edit]

While the launch facilities possible at the various launch locations may differ, the leading candidate launch site is in Cameron County, Texas,[6] approximately 17 miles east of Brownsville with launch flyover range over the Gulf of Mexico.[1] "The latest clearance from the FAA on July 9, 2014, allows SpaceX to apply for licenses from the FAA to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch rockets, which also could carry the Dragon capsule, and a variety of smaller, reusable sub-orbital launch vehicles from the Boca Chica site. SpaceX proposes up to 12 launches a year through at least 2025, carrying payload to the International Space Station."[25]

South Texas proposal[edit]

The Texas launch location was projected in the draft EIS to include a 20 acres (8.1 ha) vertical launch area and a 12.2 acres (4.9 ha) area for a launch control center. The launch pad would be directly adjacent to the eastern terminus of Texas State Highway 4.

The vertical launch area would include a hangar for horizontal launch vehicle processing—in which the transporter erector would be stored between launches—as well as a launch pad and associated flame duct, water tower, four lightning protection towers, propellant storage and handling areas, associated workshop/warehouse/utility structures, and a "retention basin for deluge water."[1]

In the draft EIS preliminary plan, the control center was to be located approximately two miles (3.2 km) west of the vertical launch area, adjacent to Boca Chica Village. It would consist of two launch control center buildings, two payload processing facilities, a launch vehicle processing hangar, communication equipment, electrical generating equipment and diesel fuel storage, as well as a storage facility for small amounts of satellite propellants.[1]

Launches on orbital trajectories from Brownsville will have a constrained flight path, due to the Caribbean Islands as well as the large number of Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX has stated that they have a good flight path available for the launching of satellites on trajectories toward the commercially-valuable Geosynchronous orbit.[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Nield, George C. (April 2014). Draft Environmental Impact Statement: SpaceX Texas Launch Site (Report). 1. Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Commercial Space Transportation. http://1.usa.gov/YtxBzo.
  2. ^ "Elon Musk's Futuristic Spaceport Is Coming to Texas". Bloomberg Businessweek. 2014-07-16. Retrieved 2014-07-11. 
  3. ^ a b Klotz, Irene (2014-07-11). "FAA Ruling Clears Path for SpaceX Launch site in Texas". Space News. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  4. ^ SpaceX plans to move commercial launches to Texas, 14 July 2014, "...SpaceX is close to publicly announcing a new commercial launch complex in Brownsville, Texas."
  5. ^ SpaceX chooses Texas for its futuristic launch complex
  6. ^ a b c Foust, Jeff (2013-04-01). "The great state space race". The Space Review. Retrieved 2013-04-03. 
  7. ^ "Texas tries to woo SpaceX on launches". Daily News. 2014-02-12. Retrieved 2014-02-14. 
  8. ^ Mark Hamrick, Elon Musk (September 29, 2011). "National Press Club: The Future of Human Spaceflight". NPC video repository (video) (National Press Club). Event occurs at 32:30. 
  9. ^ Dean, James (2013-04-03). "Proposed Shiloh launch complex at KSC debated in Volusia". Florida Today. Retrieved 2013-04-06. 
  10. ^ a b "Details Emerge on SpaceX's Proposed Texas Launch Site". Space News. 2012-04-16. p. 24. "SpaceX is considering multiple potential locations around the country for a new commercial launch pad. ... The Brownsville area is one of the possibilities." 
  11. ^ Perez-Trevino, Emma (2012-09-13). "Sanchez: Texas offering $6M, Florida giving $10M". Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  12. ^ Rush, Johna Strickland (2012-11-15). "Spaceport could land in Camden". Tribune & Georgian. Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  13. ^ http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/environmental/nepa_docs/review/documents_progress/spacex_texas_launch_site_environmental_impact_statement/media/SpaceX_Texas_Launch_Site_Draft_EIS_V1.pdf (page 87)
  14. ^ FAA Notice of Intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, Federal Aviation Administration, 3 Apr 2012, retrieved 8 Apr 2012.
  15. ^ "SpaceX Proposes New Texas Launch Site" http://www.citizensinspace.org/2012/04/spacex-proposes-new-texas-launch-site/
  16. ^ a b Martinez, Laura (2012-04-10). "Brownsville area candidate for spaceport". The Monitor. Retrieved 2012-05-12. 
  17. ^ a b Berger, Eric (2012-05-25). "Texas reaches out to land spaceport deal with SpaceX". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-05-27. 
  18. ^ a b Nelson, Aaron M. (2013-05-05). "Brownsville leading SpaceX sweepstakes?". MySanAntonio.com. Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  19. ^ a b Perez, Emma (2013-08-15). "SpaceX buys more land". Valley Morning Star. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  20. ^ a b c Martinez, Laura B. (2013-04-15). "FAA shares SpaceX EIS report". The Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2013-04-17. "'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations near Brownsville." 
  21. ^ a b c Perez, Emma (2013-06-20). "SpaceX buys more land here". Valley Morning Star. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  22. ^ a b Perez, Emma (2013-11-23). "SpaceX buys more land in Cameron County". Valley Morning Star. Retrieved 2013-11-27. 
  23. ^ a b Martinez, Laura B. (2013-09-19). "SpaceX beach closure rules set". Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 
  24. ^ a b Perez-Treviño, Emma (2014-01-06). "SpaceX buys more Cameron County land". Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  25. ^ a b c d Perez-Trevino, Emma (2014-07-09). "FAA approves SpaceX application to launch rockets from Cameron County beach". The Monitor. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  26. ^ Perez-Trevino, Emma (2014-05-24). "SpaceX buys land". Valley Morning Star. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  27. ^ a b Perez-Treviño, Emma (2014-02-19). "SpaceX continues local land purchases". Valley Morning Star. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  28. ^ Perez-Trevino, Emma (2014-01-06). "Brownsville, SpaceX await FAA ruling". Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  29. ^ Messier, Doug (2014-02-06). "Georgia Spaceport Effort Advances". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  30. ^ Dean, James (2014-04-15). "With nod to history, SpaceX gets launch pad 39A OK". Florida Today. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  31. ^ Clark, Stephen (2013-10-18). "SpaceX says robust market can support four launch pads". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  32. ^ Gwynne Shotwell (2014-03-21). Broadcast 2212: Special Edition, interview with Gwynne Shotwell (mp3) (audio file). The Space Show. Event occurs at 03:00–0405:. 2212. Archived from the original on 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-22. "we are threading the needle a bit, both with the islands as well as the oil rigs, but it is still a good flight path to get commercial satellites to GEO." 

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