News Column

Private Space Company Considers Texas Launch Site

April 11, 2012

Eric Berger

SpaceX logo

A private spaceflight company disclosed on Tuesday its plans to possibly build a space launch facility in South Texas.

SpaceX, which is building both a rocket and space capsule to carry cargo and eventually humans into orbit, has sought a federal review on the environmental impacts of developing a spaceport along the lower Texas coast, three miles north of the border with Mexico.

"I think this is fantastic, and as you know we have been calling for it for a while," said Rick Tumlinson, president and founder of the Texas Space Alliance, a group seeking to boost the space industry in the state.

Founded a decade ago by Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX plans to launch a cargo-carrying spacecraft to the International Space Station late this month from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Although it has been circumspect about its reasons for another launch site, an alternative to NASA's Kennedy Space Center would free SpaceX from some government restrictions and an at-times crowded launch schedule along the central Florida coast.

"SpaceX is considering multiple potential locations around the country," said Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokeswoman for the company. "The Brownsville area is one of the possibilities, but there is a long way to go before this could happen."

Other sites eyed

The company is also considering additional launch sites in Puerto Rico and Florida, both of which, like Texas, would launch to the east, over water. Launch sites closer to the equator also require less fuel to reach orbit.

SpaceX already has a presence in the state, with a rocket testing facility in McGregor, about 18 miles southwest of Waco.

Tumlinson sees the acquisition of a spaceport in Texas as a key to nurturing a small commercial spaceflight industry that's developing here, in addition to NASA's Johnson Space Center facility.

His organization has asked the Legislature to provide tax breaks to encourage industry development, as well as pass laws to give spaceflight companies immunity to lawsuits by passengers who choose to fly into space.

Other states seeking to attract the commercial space industry have already adopted these measures, he said.

"It is up to Texas to make this happen or blow it," he said.

The proposed launch site in Cameron County is about 5 miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

Lots of launches

Facilities at the vertical launch site would include a hangar, a launch pad and stand with its associated flame duct, propellant storage and handling areas, a workshop and office area, and a warehouse for parts storage.

According to the company, the site's operations would consist of up to 12 launches per year.

Houston is also studying the possibility of pursuing a license to run a commercial spaceport at Ellington Airport, but the city is not contemplating rocket launches. Early studies have focused on suborbital flights through the use of what are known as reusable launch vehicles -- airplane-like spacecraft -- that would take off and land at Ellington.

The city would have to lengthen the runway and likely make tens of millions of dollars in other investments to accommodate a commercial spaceport.

Chris Moran contributed to this report.



Source: (c) 2012 the Houston Chronicle


Story Tools