SpaceX confirms plan to activate South Texas launch site in late 2018

Following our report that Elon Musk’s space company was progressing on the development of a new launch site in Texas, SpaceX’s Senior Communications Manager James Gleeson has confirmed with Teslarati that the company is, in fact, working towards the activation of its South Texas launch facilities in late 2018, possibly sooner.

“We are currently targeting late 2018 for the site in South Texas to be operational but we’re reviewing our progress and will turn the site online as soon as it’s ready.”

Combined with a comment made in early January by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, BFS development by all appearances is going quite smoothly. Still, it’s likely that the Boca Chica site’s late 2018 “operational” status refers mainly to an ability to support something less than orbital launches, perhaps suborbital testing of BFS. According to a source knowledgeable with SpaceX’s South Texas outlook, there are currently no plans to manufacture BFR in the region, although the company has enjoyed the warm welcomes it’s received from local leaders enthusiastic about the company’s local expansion.

The question of where to test the first Big F____ Spaceship (BFS) prototype also appears to be undecided at the moment, and comments made by CEO Elon Musk immediately after Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch further confirmed that a couple of different options are under consideration, one of which involves using Boca Chica as a testing facility for the Mars rocket. True orbital launch operations are thus highly unlikely to begin at Boca Chica any earlier than mid-to-late 2019, and that aspirational timeline is of course intimately dependent upon the relatively smooth development and testing of BFS, as well as the potential value SpaceX might see in a fully-private orbital launch complex compatible with their proven Falcon family of rockets. A site wholly dedicated to Starlink launches, for example, could rapidly speed up the internet satellite constellation’s deployment, the completion of which could be a massive source of income capable of funding the company’s interplanetary ambitions.

The boom of a giant crane (possibly meant for BFS) seen in late 2017, parked at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facilities. (Reddit /u/ ticklestuff)

While SpaceX’s communications policy reasonably avoids commenting on employee movement, the South Texas site’s late 2018 operational status would undeniably require a fair amount of work, likely on the order of the refurbishment and repair of the SLC-40 pad. This indirectly lends at least a sliver of credence to a recent claim from Space Florida, a state-run economic development agency focused on aerospace, that a portion of the workers involved in the refurbishment of LC-40 and LC-39A’s Falcon Heavy upgrades have begun “working on their Brownsville [TX] site.”

Indeed, local South Texas fans of SpaceX have done an outstanding job of tracking the progress made at the Boca Chica launch facility over the last several years, and activity at the site does appear to have exploded in recent months, relative to the several years of quiet landscaping that followed its 2014 announcement.

Most recently, the addition of a solar array installation, Tesla Powerpacks, and an 800-kilowatt generator gives the construction zone the ability to generate considerably more than 1MW of grid-independent power, likely more than enough to operate both a bevy of construction equipment and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon communications complex.

Solar installation at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas [Credit: Nomadd via Forum]

Ultimately, it’s all but guaranteed that significant increases in construction and development activity (or the lack thereof) will be immediately noted and communicated by observant locals. If SpaceX hopes to make its South Texas site operational before the end of the year, major work can be expected to begin within a handful of months at most. In the meantime, activities in Los Angeles, CA, particularly the Port of San Pedro, will offer another source of data on BFS’ development progress. Now we wait…

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SpaceX confirms plan to activate South Texas launch site in late 2018

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