Within the framework of A federal review process of its plans in South Texas, details of SpaceX’s spaceport project have been made public. They were posted at the end of last week in a public notice of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is seeking public comment on the changes.
In particular, the new documents include a detailed architectural drawing of the multi-acre site at the southern tip of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. Major equipment that exists or will be built includes:
- Two orbital launch pads, one of which is already under construction
- Two suborbital launch pads, one of which already exists
- Two landing platforms, one of which already exists
- Two structural test benches for Starship and the Super Heavy booster
- A large “tank farm” to provide ground support equipment for orbital flights
- A permanent station for the Starhopper totem vehicle at the entrance to the site
What is striking about this architectural drawing is its compact nature, in large part because SpaceX has limited land to work on the facility and must include stormwater ponds to mitigate flooding. All of these facilities will be concentrated over a few dozen acres, in stark contrast to the larger launch sites in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
However, SpaceX seems confident that it can control the launch and landing of its vehicles in such a way that misadventures will not seriously damage nearby equipment. It’s a non-traditional and perhaps risky bet, but SpaceX has always been willing to take risks during development programs in order to go faster.
These detailed plans also provide more evidence that company founder Elon Musk is in full agreement in Texas for SpaceX’s future. These four launch pads, in conjunction with the acquisition of two oil platforms named Phobos and Deimos, give an idea of the operational capacities of the company.
The plan is likely to perform launches from South Texas and ground vehicles on these modified platforms and to fly spacecraft on suborbital jumps from South Texas to these platforms for orbital launches. This effectively provides the Starship launch system with four orbital launch pads – and possibly a fifth if SpaceX continues to work on site modifications at the Kennedy Space Center.
The US Army Corps review is not the only regulatory process underway in South Texas. In addition to satisfying the Army Corps of Engineers, SpaceX is also subject to an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration. Since acquiring the South Texas launch site in 2014, the company’s planned scope of operations has grown significantly, from approximately 10 Falcon 9 launches per year to launches of the massive Starship vehicle. SpaceX works provide the FAA with an updated environmental assessment that the federal agency will then assess.
Musk also proposed incorporating the nearby village of Boca Chica into a new town, called Starbase, in Texas. Such a city should have at least 201 residents and follow state rules for incorporation. Before the arrival of SpaceX, the small community of Boca Chica consisted of several dozen houses. Somewhat controversially, in recent years the company has sought to buy out or remove residents in order to gain more control over its nearby launch activities.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.
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