BROWNSVILLE — SpaceX has finished installing a second ground station antenna at its future Boca Chica spaceport for the purpose of tracking Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2018.
Crew Dragon is the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s seven-seat spacecraft designed to carry humans to the ISS and other destinations. A SpaceX spokesman said the antennas will also be used to track flights from Boca Chica once they’re underway.
The company acquired the 86-ton antennas from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and transported them to Boca Chica via semitrailer. The first antenna was installed this summer.
The Boca Chica site broke ground in September 2014. Later, 310,000 cubic yards of soil were trucked in over a period of months to stabilize the area. No concrete has been poured other than the antenna bases and no structures have been erected, though the STARGATE Technology Park, a public-private partnership between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and SpaceX, is under construction across State Hwy. 4. No date has been set for the first launch from Boca Chica.
The company said it has completed 16 launches so far in 2017, including Monday’s launch of a Korean commercial communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center.
“While SpaceX’s launch cadence has never been higher, and even as our teams have worked to modernize and improve our other launch complexes, we have continued to make progress on building the first-ever orbital commercial spaceport in South Texas,” said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, the company is at work developing its Interplanetary Transportation System, nicknamed “BFR,” which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk plans to use to transport humans to Mars for the purposes of colonization. BFR, which stands for “Big F— Rocket,” would feature 31 main engines propelling a spacecraft capable of carrying about 100 people.
Musk gave an update of his Mars plans at a meeting of the International Astronautical Congress on Sept. 29 in Australia, during which he said the company plans to launch its first non-crewed flights to Mars by 2022. If all goes well, the first crewed flights to Mars would take place in 2024, he said.
SpaceX is currently permitted for up to 12 commercial launches a year from Boca Chica, though while answering reporters’ questions during the 2014 groundbreaking ceremony, Musk hinted that interplanetary flights may someday leave from Boca Chica.
“It could very well be that the first person that departs for another planet could depart from this location,” he said then.
Accounts posted online of a lecture by SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell at Stanford University on Oct. 11 quoted Shotwell as saying Boca Chica is the “perfect location for BFR.” As of press time Monday evening, the company had not responded to a request for corroboration.