SpaceX broke ground on a new commercial spaceport Sept. 22 on the shores of South Texas, committing to the construction of the world’s first privately-owned satellite launch pad scheduled to be operational as soon as late 2016.
The ceremonial groundbreaking, attended by more than 100 state and local officials, SpaceX employees, and media representatives, marked the end of a nationwide search for a location to build a new launch base for SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family.
“This is just the first initial groundbreaking, ” said Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer at SpaceX. “It’s going to take several years to build out the spaceport. This is going to be quite a significant building endeavor.”
SpaceX initially plans up to a dozen launches of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from the facility at Boca Chica Beach, a remote stretch of shoreline about three miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River.
Situated where a little-traveled two-lane highway dead-ends at the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles east of Brownsville, the South Texas launch site beat out proposed locations in Florida, Hawaii and elsewhere.
Texas lured SpaceX to the Rio Grande Valley with commitments of public funding and legislation to tweak laws that could impede launch operations at the site.
The state offered $15.3 million in incentives to support SpaceX’s development of a South Texas spaceport, and the Texas legislature passed a law permitting the closure of public beaches on launch days.
“We put into account various factors, and one of the biggest factors — maybe the biggest — was the willingness of the state and local governments to support such an endeavor, ” Musk said. “Do they truly really want it? We want to be in a place where we’re truly wanted.”
The University of Texas at Brownsville and SpaceX are partnering to develop a ground communications station to support launches from the area.
The Federal Aviation Administration will license SpaceX’s rocket launches from South Texas, holding responsibility for public safety. The U.S. Air Force does that job at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The FAA gave a green light to the commercial launch base in July after a review of its impacts to the environment.
“We actually began environmental studies on a few different locations, but I think the fundamental point that swayed SpaceX on Boca Chica was the tremendous outpouring of support from local residents, ” Musk said.
“Elon … we thank you for having the vision to see that this is where you needed to be and wanted to be, ” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “This is just another one of those signals to the rest of the world that this is a state that is making a difference — making a difference in a powerful way.”
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