Congressman says don’t worry about SpaceX leaving

Elon Musk’s response to a question posed by the Brownsville Herald during Musk’s Feb. 10 presentation at SpaceX’s Starship development site at the Boca Chica site, dubbed Starbase, has sparked a degree of anxiety among some local officials that the world’s most successful private rocket company could slip one way.

At issue is the Federal Aviation Administration’s ongoing final programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) of SpaceX’s plans to launch its super-heavy boosters. The company is preparing for its first orbital launch of a combined Starship-Super Heavy, from Boca Chica, but the FAA must first complete the PEA. The release date has been pushed back several times, most recently to April 29, the FAA recently announced. The original deadline was December 31, 2021

The PEA could contain a finding of no significant impact in the PEA and the FAA could grant SpaceX the necessary launch license, or the agency could require a much more comprehensive and lengthy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the company’s plans for Boca Chica. If that happens, no orbital launches will take place at Boca Chica/Starbase anytime soon.

A Super Heavy booster is seen alongside Starship prototypes Wednesday at the SpaceX Starbase rocket production facility near Texas State Highway 4. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Asked by the Brownsville Herald what would happen if the FAA required an EIS, Musk replied that SpaceX, which has a contract with NASA to develop Starship as a human landing system for the Artemis lunar astronaut program of the space agency, would be forced “to change our priorities in Cape (Canaveral)” to Florida.

“Now we have the Cape Town alternative,” he said. “We actually applied for environmental clearance to launch from Cape Town a few years ago and received it. So we are indeed environmentally cleared to launch from (launch complex) 39A. I guess our worst case scenario is that we would be delayed six to eight months to build the Cape Town launch tower and launch from there.

Those words likely caused heartburn among local leaders betting on SpaceX and the space-related companies it attracts to turn Brownsville into a “New Space City” and the region into a hub for the private space sector. fast growing.

“We hope that doesn’t happen,” Brownsville Navigation District Chairman Sergio Tito Lopez recently told a Rio Grande Guardian reporter, reflecting the view of SpaceX supporters who don’t want to see the Company presence here diminished.

But U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, representing Texas’ 15th congressional district, thinks everyone should relax and not assume the FAA’s delays signal impending bad news.

“I wasn’t alarmed by the delay,” he said. “I wasn’t alarmed because I didn’t get a call from them. If they had panicked, they would have called us right away – SpaceX, their lobbyists. …I mean, it’s completely normal.

Gonzalez said he had no indication that “everything is not on track,” noting that SpaceX has a well-organized army of lobbyists on Capitol Hill who advocate for the company with various agencies and committees. .

A view from Texas State Highway 4 of SpaceX’s launch site at Starbase, Texas, near Boca Chica Beach. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

As for what a member of Congress can do to affect the outcome, not much, he said, although Gonzalez and U.S. Representative Filemon Vela sent the FAA a letter months ago asking that the PEA be accelerated.

“These are all independent agencies, aren’t they? We can only be as helpful as we can be, but we can speak to the administration and be as supportive as possible,” Gonzalez said.

Even if Starship’s first orbital launch does end up lifting off from Florida — SpaceX is building that launch tower at 39A just like Boca Chica’s — he doesn’t think SpaceX will give up on South Texas.

“They’re not just going to pick up and go,” Gonzalez said. “They are quite rooted. They made quite significant investments there, and so did the federal government. … They have about $1.5 billion in federal investments in this project. It’s not just going to go away.

He described Starship’s development as a “monumental project” and said there were bound to be hiccups along the way.

“If there were any delays, he wouldn’t stop his operation,” Gonzalez said. “He’ll do what he has to do in Florida and what he can in Texas until we get to that finish line. But at this point, I’m pretty optimistic that everything will be fine. ‘arrange.”

Musk, in response to a follow-up question from the Brownsville Herald during the February 10 presentation, indicated that Boca Chica is indeed part of the company’s long-term plans, even if it is not necessarily a spaceport with spaceships coming and going.

“The future role of Starbase, I think, is well suited to be kind of like our forward location (research and development), so it’s like we’re trying new designs and new versions of the rocket,” he said. -he declares. “And then I think probably (Cape Canaveral) would be our kind of primary operational launch site.

“And then, over time, I think there will be floating spaceports like ocean spaceports. We have these two converted oil rigs that are going to be turned into orbital launch sites, and they can be moved around the world whole. “