HARLINGEN — SpaceX’s proposal to develop a launch site at BocaChicaBeach in CameronCounty took giant leaps forward with the submission to CameronCounty of applications for commercial building permits.
On Monday, SpaceX’s Dogleg Park LLC submitted an application for a permit to install small solar panels off-grid in the vicinity of the proposed launch control center at the potential launch site. The contractor is SolarCity. Elon Musk, founder of the California-based Space Exploration Technologies, is chairman of SolarCity.
And on Tuesday, Brownsville Economic Development Council Executive Vice-President Gilbert Salinas also submitted an application for a commercial permit in connection with the BEDC-SpaceX-University of Texas at Brownsville’s STARGATE project for construction of a 12,000 square feet tracking center. The contractor of the project is not noted in the permit application.
The developments are the third critical and telling ones this month regarding the progress of SpaceX’s plans to develop the world’s first private, commercial vertical launch site in South Texas.
“Short of there being an official announcement, this is another indication that they are serious about locating in CameronCounty,” Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said. Cascos said that one has to go through the permitting process before construction, and that this could signal the beginning of some building construction. “It’s a very good indication. We are all very excited in anticipating the official announcement so they can move forward,” the judge said.
SpaceX did not respond Tuesday to a request for updates on the proposed project.
Nick Serafy, chairman of the Cameron County Space Port Development Corp., established to facilitate the development of the aerospace industry in CameronCounty starting with the SpaceX project, also welcomed the developments: “Again, this is another positive sign of their presence here.”
SpaceX’s formal announcement of its plans to develop a launch site at BocaChicaBeach is expected soon. The proposed site is 17 miles east-northeast of the Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport and approximately five miles south of South Padre Island.
Salinas said that the STARGATE project would be a collaboration of SpaceX, UTB and the BEDC. The Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-Hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission (STARGATE) complex would be to develop, test, and utilize radio frequency technologies for both scientific and commercial purposes and to track spacecraft. The STARGATE research and commercialization complex would include investments made by the company in the command control center, SpaceX has said.
Salinas was not able to provide further information on other aspects of the proposal. “I can’t elaborate on incentives that are in play for the potential project until the company accepts the potential incentive package.”
The developments follow several crucial movements earlier this month. On July 9, the Federal Aviation Administration issued its Record of Decision to support the issuance of launch licenses that would allow Musk’s firm to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical rockets, which also could carry the Dragon capsule — and a variety of smaller, reusable suborbital launch vehicles from the proposed private spaceport at Boca Chica Beach.
The space exploration firm proposes up to 12 launch operations a year through at least 2025. According to FAA, all Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches would carry payloads, including satellites or experimental payloads. Most payloads would be commercial; however, some could be Department of Defense and NASA payloads, or a federal contribution to a commercial payload.
SpaceX, which has nearly 50 launches on its manifest representing about $5 billion in contracts, plans to invest $73.65 million in the Boca Chica project.
FAA found that SpaceX’s proposal advances the commercial space launch industry in the United States.
Also in July, a day before FAA issued its Record of Decision, SpaceX’s company Dogleg Park LLC purchased an additional 50 acres of land from private land owners, which public records reflect, would have been those under option or lease since at least June 2012.
The purchase brings SpaceX’s property holdings at BocaChicaBeach to approximately 100 acres of land.
Through Dogleg and The Flats at Mars Crossing LLC, the firm consistently has purchased and had leased properties at the Boca Chica site from early June 2012 through this month.
The facilities would be constructed on 68.9 acres of the currently undeveloped property that SpaceX has purchased. The remaining acreage would remain open, according to the final environmental impact statement.