Brownsville in running for commercial space launch site - Brownsville Herald: News

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Brownsville in running for commercial space launch site

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Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:00 am

Brownsville already has the Gateway International Bridge, but could soon be the new gateway to outer space.

Cameron County is one of three sites being considered for Space Exploration Technologies,’ or SpaceX’s, launch of the Falcon 9 vehicle and other commercial space vehicles.

The area under consideration is the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border on the Gulf Coast, which is about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

All launches would be to the east over the Gulf of Mexico.

"It’s being called the commercial Cape Canaveral," said Gilbert Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council.

The BEDC has been working with Gov. Rick Perry’s office and SpaceX in luring the company to South Texas. Should the company decide to build such a launch site in Brownsville, it could cut the area’s unemployment rate by at least 1 percent, Salinas said.

"It’s time for Brownsville to step up and say SpaceX we want you," Salinas said.

City and county officials have been working with SpaceX for more than a year and have pretty much kept the project under wraps until Monday, when the project appeared on the Federal Register website in which the Federal Aviation Administration is seeking an environmental review. SpaceX is seeking launch licenses from the FAA.

The Brownsville-Cameron County area is the only site in Texas under consideration, Salinas said. The other two sites are in Florida and Puerto Rico.

"It’s exciting that we made it this far," Salinas said.

Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said he was approached by members of the company about seven months ago and informed of their proposal.

While Cascos could not go into details, he said should Cameron County be selected as the launch site it could create numerous jobs that could bring "millions of dollars into the local economy."

"It can act as not only a job creation endeavor but an education endeavor as well," Cascos said.

SpaceX is a private company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the co-founder of Pay Pal. According to the company’s website, it has been awarded Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) funding by NASA to demonstrate delivery and return of cargo to the International Space Station.

The company already has an active launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is currently developing a new launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company also operates a rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

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

Before anything could be done on the project, an environmental impact statement, a public scoping period and a public scoping meeting would need to be held.

According to the Federal Register, SpaceX proposes to build a vertical launch area and a control center to support up to 12 commercial launches per year. The vehicles launched include the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and smaller reusable, suborbital launch vehicles.

All facilities would be built on private land owned or leased by SpaceX.

A scope meeting is scheduled for May 15 at the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center or ITEC in Brownsville. Public comments can also be sent to the FAA’s Environmental Protection Department at faaspacexeis@cardnotec.com.

This is the second time South Texas is being considered for a rocket launch site,

Several years ago, Willacy County was eyed for a state-funded "space port" project, and a 22-pound test rocket was launched in 2002 near Port Mansfield.

But that program fizzled after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks when the FAA banned future launches.

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