SpaceX to build rocket launch site in South Texas


McALLEN, Texas (AP) — SpaceX will build the world’s first commercial site for orbital rocket launches in the southernmost tip of Texas.

The state of Texas added $15.3 million in incentives to the geographic value of a location east of Brownsville that will allow SpaceX to have greater control over the timing of its launches. The company has said it plans to launch 12 rockets a year from the Boca Chica Beach, a short walk from the Gulf of Mexico and just a couple miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office said Monday it will provide $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The state will offer an additional $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. to pay for infrastructure development.

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“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said in a prepared statement.

SpaceX plans to make an $85 million investment and create 300 jobs. The company already has a rocket testing facility in McGregor that employs 250 people.

Space Exploration Technologies CEO Elon Musk, said, “In addition to creating hundreds of high-tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the South Texas area.”

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said he always knew Brownsville had a good shot at landing the facility. Locations in Florida, Puerto Rico and Georgia had apparently been considered as well.

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“It’s a barrier breaker,” Martinez said. “It opens up a lot of doors for a lot of things.” He said SpaceX hopes to have the first launch in 2016.

The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. committed an additional $5 million to the project. Over a 10-year period — longer than the state’s incentive program — Brownsville expects SpaceX to create 500 jobs.

Gilberto Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, said the region’s work is just beginning. He said his organization will facilitate the project’s construction, help work out supply chain logistics and look for opportunities to draw related companies into the area.

One of the site’s biggest hurdles seemed to be its environmental impact. The site is bordered on three sides by state park land that’s managed by the federal government as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. But in late May, the Federal Aviation Administration released a final environmental review that found the project was unlikely to jeopardize the existence of protected animal species and would create few unavoidable impacts.

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Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of Space Frontier Foundation and Texas Space Alliance, said in May that SpaceX’s establishment of its launch site in Texas would be significant.

“What that means is we could at some point see flights originating in Texas that are carrying astronauts or passengers to the space station, orbital space hotels, to the moon and eventually even we might see human beings boarding spacecraft in Texas and flying to Mars,” Tumlinson said. “That’s huge.”

Carissa Bryce Christensen, managing partner at The Tauri Group, a Virginia-based space and technology consulting firm, said in an interview in April that having its own launch site would give SpaceX predictability.

“SpaceX has made an absolute winning career of controlling its own destiny,” Bryce Christensen said. “SpaceX is arguably the most integrated launch company there is. They do it all themselves.”

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship already ferries supplies and experiments to and from the International Space Station for NASA.

In April, NASA agreed to lease launch pad 39A at Cape Canaveral to SpaceX. The company also launches from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

SpaceX has proposed launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy — under development — rockets from Boca Chica.