An orbital view of SpaceX’s South Texas launch site, with SN10 on the pad, in early March. Maxar Technologies
By Eric Berger
THE COMPANY WILL HAVE TWO ORBITAL, AND TWO SUBORBITAL LAUNCH PADS.
As part of a federal review process for its plans in South Texas, details of SpaceX’s proposed spaceport have been made public. They were posted late last week in a public notice from the US Army Corps of engineers, which is soliciting public comments on the changes.
Most notably, the new documents include a detailed architectural drawing of the multi-acre site at the southern tip of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. The major hardware that exists or will be built includes:
- Two orbital launch pads, one of which is already under constriction
- Two suborbital launch pads, one of which already exists
- Two landing pads, one of which already exists
- Two structural test stands for Starship and the Super Heavy booster
- A large “tank farm” to provide ground support equipment for orbital flights
- A permanent position for the totemic “Starhopper” vehicle at the site’s entrance
What is striking about this architectural drawing is its compact nature, largely because SpaceX has limited land to work with at the facility and must include stormwater ponds to mitigate against flooding. All of these facilities will be concentrated within a couple dozen acres, which is in stark contrast to more expansive launch sites in Florida at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
However, SpaceX appears confident that it can control the launch and landing of its vehicles such that any mishaps will not severely damage nearby equipment. This is a non-traditional and possibly risky bet, but SpaceX has always been willing to take risks during development programs in order to move more quickly.
All in on Texas
These detailed plans also provide more evidence that company founder Elon Musk is all in on Texas for the future of SpaceX. These four launch pads, in conjunction with the acquisition of two oil rigs named Phobos and Deimos, provide some sense of the company’s operational capabilities.
The plan is likely to conduct launches from South Texas and land vehicles on these modified platforms and to fly Starships on suborbital hops from South Texas to these platforms for orbital launches. This effectively provides the Starship Launch System with four orbital launch pads—and possibly a fifth one should SpaceX continue work on site modifications at Kennedy Space Center.
The US Army Corps review is not the only regulatory process underway in South Texas. In addition to satisfying the Army Corps of Engineers, SpaceX is also undergoing an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration. Since first acquiring the south Texas launch site in 2014, the company’s planned scope of activities has grown dramatically, from about 10 Falcon 9 launches a year to launches of the massive Starship vehicle. SpaceX is working to provide the FAA with an updated environmental assessment that the federal agency will then evaluate.
Musk has also proposed the incorporation of nearby Boca Chica Village into a new city, called Starbase, Texas. Such a city would need to have at least 201 residents and follow state rules for incorporation. Prior to SpaceX’s arrival, the small Boca Chica community consisted of several dozen homes. Somewhat controversially, in recent years, the company has sought to buy out or otherwise remove residents so that it has more control over its nearby launch activities.