BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, presented an update on the Starship development program Thursday evening and said the Boca Chica site will likely continue to serve for research and development, while construction for a Starship build site and launchpad in Florida is ramping up.
When SpaceX first broke ground at the Boca Chica launch site, now known as Starbase, Musk presented the future facility as the place from which humans could one day launch to Mars.
“It very well could be the first person to go to another planet could launch from this location,” Musk said in a 2014 press conference. “This is really going to be a new kind of spaceport that is optimized for commercial operations.”
Since then, SpaceX integrated itself into the South Texas community and rapidly developed a prototype for what will be the largest and most powerful spacecraft to date.
Brownsville, one of the communities in close proximity to Starbase, has fed off of this futuristic energy and has progressively worked towards a new identity as a “space city” by bringing in several space-centered businesses. Tourism has also increased in the area as people from all over the world travel to the southernmost part of Texas to visit Starbase, many for the first time.
Musk is confident that Starship will revolutionize space travel and is key to building a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. But the road to building the colossal Starship and launch tower that served as the backdrop for Thursday’s presentation was far from a smooth one. Furthermore, the struggle to get the needed license to launch into orbit from Boca Chica may push the project out of Texas and into Florida.
Opposition from the community was almost immediate as residents of Boca Chica Village resisted selling their homes to make room for the incoming testing activity and activists worked to prevent further disruption to the protected natural areas surrounding the launch site. Many of those voices were heard during the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) public hearing regarding the South Texas launch site in October 2021. The FAA said the number of responses was the reason for their two-month delay in releasing the results of their environmental assessment, a much-needed factor in being able to launch from Boca Chica.
Despite this, SpaceX has continued working towards preparing for their first Starship orbital test flight at the Boca Chica site. During Thursday’s presentation, Musk was able to boast an operational launch tower that was used to lift the ship portion of the rocket on top of the booster to complete the Starship. With these components in place, all SpaceX is waiting on is a green light from the FAA.
Musk said Thursday that he has little insight on the FAA’s plans but was optimistic that SpaceX would be granted the needed launch license, citing that the draft environmental assessment found that there would be no significant impact to the surrounding protected environment and community. However, with the goal of an orbital Starship test flight before the end of this year in mind, as well as SpaceX’s human lunar landing contract with NASA, Musk made it clear that he is not taking any chances.
While Starship development has been focused at the Boca Chica site since 2019, Musk emphasized that they are ready to ramp up development in Florida, at the Kennedy Space Center, in the case that the FAA does not grant the needed license. SpaceX has long been approved to launch Starships from the Cape Canaveral site and has already had a Starship build site in that area. Musk says that the “worst-case scenario,” denial from the FAA, would delay the Starship program six to eight months while they prepare in Florida.
Musk noted in his presentation that the Boca Chica site is ideal for launching into orbit. Aside from not wanting to disrupt current space operations in Florida, the ability to take advantage of the Earth’s rotation to launch eastward over an uninhabited area and its proximity to the equator make it the next best spot. In the long term, because of the frequency and number of Starships Musk plans on sending into space, Boca Chica would likely eventually serve as a spaceport for Starship along with Cape Canaveral. Sources at SpaceX told ValleyCentral that a second launch tower is still in the plans for Boca Chica.
The questions now are, where will the first orbital test flight happen and where will the first human missions to Mars take place? After eight years of building at Boca Chica, supporters of the project in South Texas hope both will happen here, but that will likely depend on the FAA decision which is scheduled to be released at the end of this month. Others are likely to celebrate the bulk of the project moving to Florida, as hearing the frequent roar of 33 raptor engines was never the ideal situation.