Musk donates more big money to revitalizing downtown Brownsville

It appears that a charitable foundation established by Elon Musk has recently decided to up its donations to the Brownsville Community Improvements Corporation by an extra $1 million, the money aimed at helping to revitalized the downtown of Brownsville, the nearest large city to SpaceX’s Boca Chica spaceport.

The donation was revealed during remarks by Josh Mejia, executive director of the Brownsville Community Improvements Corporation, during a Brownsville developers luncheon .

In his remarks, Mejia, pictured above, gave an update on the e-Bridge Center and other quality of life improvements coming to Brownsville. But, he received the biggest applause when he mentioned inward investment by Elon Musk. “I was texting back and forth with my board members and about 45 minutes ago I receive an email from the Musk Foundation. It is like perfect timing. It is like they know we are here. Well, they just mentioned they donated another million (dollars) towards this program. So, now we have $2 million,” Mejia said. The audience cheered.

This donation is all part of the modern game that requires big business enterprises to make payoffs to local and national politicians and “community activists.” Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos know this, and are playing the game to hilt. Both know that the politicians and “community activists” have been telling them, “Nice business you got here, shame if something happened to it.” Bezos responded by donating big to DC’s Air & Space museum, while spreading the wealth to many space advocacy groups.

Musk is instead focusing his payoffs to the local community, where it might do the most good for both him and the locals that his business affects. This donation is not the first he has made to Boca Chica, Brownsville, and south Texas. His foundation has also donated $20 million to the county schools, and another $8 million for other downtown Brownsville projects. The results, obviously helped by the business SpaceX is also bringing to the town, have been noticeable.

In the months since Musk pledged his $10 million, at least 10 downtown properties have gone under contract with interested buyers, said real estate broker Bob Torres Jr. Buildings that used to lease for 25 cents a square foot are now leasing for $1 to $1.50 per square foot.

Home prices have increased nationwide due to the pandemic and low inventory. In Brownsville, this trend has been exacerbated by SpaceX. “People are buying houses sight unseen from Washington state, Portland, Oregon,” Torres said. “They’re going above the asking price, which hardly ever happens.” Real estate broker Bruno Zavaleta III had a client drive from Atlanta and buy three houses.

According to the Brownsville/South Padre Island Board of Realtors, the median price for a home in Brownsville was $212,900 in June, up 47 percent from June 2020. To help with inventory, Esperanza Homes is building 675 houses in northern Brownsville. It will develop this master-planned community over the next six to eight years with a nonprofit community housing development organization called “come dream. come build.”

This pumping of donations by Musk to the local community however will not sell well with the mafia in Washington. The money isn’t going to them, and bullies don’t like that, even if the money is really doing good. Bezos understands this. It doesn’t really matter if the money he donates accomplishes anything real. What matters is that he has paid off the thugs who could make big trouble for him in the future.

Right now it is unclear who’s strategy will work best for protecting each company’s interests. Much will hinge on what each company actually accomplishes in the next few years. SpaceX is clearly ahead in this area, but Blue Origin can certainly catch up.

Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

FAA threatens shutdown of SpaceX’s Starship program at Boca Chica

Banned by the FAA?
Starship banned by the FAA?

They’re coming for you next: An FAA official revealed yesterday that the agency has not approved the launch tower that SpaceX is building for its Starship/Superheavy rocket in Boca Chica, Texas, and threatened that if disapproved the government would force the company to tear it down.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned Elon Musk’s SpaceX in a letter two months ago that the company’s work on a launch tower for future Starship rocket launches is yet unapproved, and will be included in the agency’s ongoing environmental review of the facility in Boca Chica, Texas. “The company is building the tower at its own risk,” an FAA spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday, noting that the environmental review could recommend taking down the launch tower.

The FAA last year began an environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship development facility, as Musk’s company said it planned to apply for licenses to launch the next-generation rocket prototypes from Boca Chica. While the FAA completed an environmental assessment of the area in 2014, that review was specific to SpaceX’s much-smaller Falcon series of rockets.

This revelation from FAA officials is most interestingly timed, coming on the same day as this garbage article about the terrible environmental damages some activists imagine SpaceX’s launch facility might someday cause. As is usual for a mainstream news source, the article makes no reference to the wildlife preserve that surrounds the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where we have empirical proof for more than a half century that a spaceport does no harm to the environment and actually acts to protect it from development.

Nor was this the only such attack article in the past two days. Here is just a sampling:
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FAA, local Texas DA, and environmental group out to get SpaceX and Starship

Two news articles today suggest that a number of government officials, environmental groups, and some news media are beginning to team up to damage SpaceX and hinder its ability to succeed.

First we have this Verge article, aimed at suggesting that SpaceX violated its launch license and ignored FAA warnings not to launch during a December 9th test flight of the eighth Starship prototype.

Minutes before liftoff, Elon Musk’s SpaceX ignored at least two warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration that launching its first high-altitude Starship prototype last December would violate the company’s launch license, confidential documents and letters obtained by The Verge show. And while SpaceX was under investigation, it told the FAA that the agency’s software was a “source of frustration” that has been “shown to be inaccurate at times or overly conservative,” according to the documents.

The article generally takes the side of the FAA, suggesting that SpaceX was lax and nonchalant about the risks relating to weather and launch conditions, and proceeded with its launch even though FAA officials thought it unsafe. It also quotes Wayne Monteith, the head of the FAA’s space division, blasting SpaceX for showing “a concerning lack of operational control and process discipline that is inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” claiming that FAA software showed a risk to nearby buildings and homes should the rocket explode in the air.

However, buried far down in the article it also notes,
» Read more

FAA approves next three Starship test flights with prototype #15

Capitalism in space: In a statement today the FAA announced that it has approved next three test flights of SpaceX’s Starship prototype #15.

From the statement:

The FAA has authorized the next three launches or the SpaceX Starship prototype. The agency approved multiple launches because SpaceX is making few changes on the launch vehicle and relied on the FAA’s approved methodology to calculate the risk to the public. The FAA authorized the launches on Wednesday, April 28.

This likely means that SpaceX will try a flight tomorrow.

Starship #11 debris fuels environmentalist opposition

They’re coming for you next: The debris that fell as far as five and a half miles away when SpaceX’s Starship #11 prototype exploded just before landing on March 30th has increased the already vocal opposition from various environmentalist activists of the space project.

Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Friends of Wildlife Corridor, and concerned citizens in the environmental research field have expressed their dissent about the SpaceX activities at Boca Chica.

Chris Sandoval, a science teacher in Brownsville with degrees in Wildlife and Fisheries and Ecotoxicology, has put forth a research paper explaining the possible effects of SpaceX activity in the surrounding natural habitats and economic consequences as a result of their expansion in the region.

Sandoval says research would show that contamination from rocket fluids would harm wildlife in the surrounding area. “Contaminants such as those of hydrocarbons are able to kill aquatic life, both vertebrate and invertebrate, at very low concentrations, especially when it’s in a semi-enclosed area as the Lagunas are,” explained Sandoval.

And yet, none of these claims seem to apply to the government-run spaceports in Florida and California, both of which are also surrounded by wildlife refuges. Why is that? Why do these environmentalists have a particular opposition to the spaceport of this private company, but none or little opposition to the government’s? Could it be that what they really oppose is private enterprise, and are using the environment as a tool to destroy it?

I should add, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages this refuge, SpaceX has been working closely with them on mitigating the damage, which in the end I suspect will be quite minimal. The ecology is far stronger than these environmentalist like to portray it. What SpaceX did hardly compares to the damage a hurricane would cause, and that is not an unusual event at this Gulf coast location.

Whether this environmental opposition to SpaceX will result in any major delays or obstacles remains to be seen. Under a Trump administration I would not be too concerned. Under today’s Democratic Party Biden administration, who knows? The tendency of Democrats is to regulate, and to use their power to squeeze others. So far that has not yet happened aggressively in connection to SpaceX, though there have been signs that the Biden administration is interested in increasing the regulatory roadblocks SpaceX must face. We will only have to wait and see.

Above all this increases the urgency for SpaceX to shift as soon as possible its Starship and Super Heavy test flights to the two oil-rigs it purchased and are refitting as floating launch and landing platforms. Once the bulk of those test flights are far away, out in the ocean, the political clout of these protesters will be minimized.

Starship and Super Heavy update

Link here. The fifteenth Starship prototype has now been moved to its launchpad, which you can see here, while further work continues on Starship prototypes #16-20, the first Super Heavy prototypes, #1 and #2, and the orbital launchpad.

Starship #15 sports many changes in design from #11, and is expected to do its first test flight sometime in the coming weeks. As for the first Super Heavy prototype, it will be used to test some ground operations as well as the prototype itself, on the ground. Prototype #2 will hopefully make the first Super Heavy hop.

The construction of a full orbital launchpad lends great weight to SpaceX’s goal of making the first orbital flight before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has likely tightened security at this Boca Chica facility after a youtuber sneaked onto the site recently and posted video of himself wandering around the base of Starship #11, unmolested. He has since removed that video, but another youtuber grabbed it and has re-posted it for you to watch.

SpaceX’s decision to build launchpad with Starship tanks proves the rocket will be cheapest ever built

Capitalism in space: The decision by SpaceX’s to build the tank farm for its Starship/Super Heavy launchpad at Boca Chica using Starship tanks, rather than inexpensive off-the-shelf storage tanks, strongly suggests that the company’s manufacturing facility for building those tanks makes them very inexpensive, and also suggests that the final rocket will be as cheap to launch as SpaceX has promised.

SpaceX is effectively taking identical rocket parts, slightly tweaking a handful of those parts, and turning what could have been a rocket into a propellant storage tank. This is significant because relative to all other rockets in history, even including SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 and Heavy, building storage tanks with unchanged rocket parts on a rocket assembly line would be roughly akin to hiring Vincent van Gogh to paint lane lines.

Ever since Elon Musk made the radical decision to switch from composite structures to stainless steel, Starship has always aimed to be radically different than any large rocket before it. Crucially, by using commodity steel, the CEO imagined SpaceX would be able to build Starships fairly easily and for pennies on the dollar next to even SpaceX’s exceptionally affordable Falcon 9. In the last 18 months, it’s become apparent that SpaceX has built a factory capable of churning out one or two massive steel rockets per month and is willing to consign at least four or five of those Starship prototypes to all-but-guaranteed failures for the sake of data-gathering and iterative improvement.

Technically, the most logical conclusion would be that Musk was right and that SpaceX has quickly developed the ability to build steel rockets larger than any other launch vehicle on Earth for perhaps just $5M or less apiece.

The analysis at the link is detailed and worth reading. If correct, this decision by SpaceX proves that Starship and Super Heavy will be the cheapest rocket ever flown, even though it will be the largest ever flown, and also completely reusable.

SpaceX to build Starlink factory in Austin, Texas

Capitalism in space: According to a job posting from SpaceX, it now plans to build a factory in Austin, Texas, to build its Starlink satellites.

The listing also noted that Musk, in a tweet, is suggesting the town of Boca Chica in Texas be renamed Starbase, Texas. According to this article, such a change will not be simple.

“Creating the city of Starbase, Texas,” Musk tweeted Tuesday. “From thence to Mars, And hence the Stars.”

A SpaceX representative made a “casual inquiry” recently about requirements to incorporate Boca Chica and rename it the City of Starbase, said Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino. In a statement, he said county commissioners have been notified of the discussions about Boca Chica, a small burg near the Mexican border where SpaceX’s new Starship prototypes dominate the seaside skyline. “Sending a tweet doesn’t make it so,” Trevino said in an interview. “They have a lot of hoops and hurdles to go through before they can make it so.”

I think Musk will be making a mistake to do this. Even if all the locals have moved out, there is history behind the Boca Chica name. He should keep it and simply give his facilities their own name.

A similar situation occurred at Cape Canaveral in Florida. After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 the federal government renamed it Cape Kennedy, a name that never took with locals. The name was eventually changed back to its historic one.

SpaceX enters business of drilling for natural gas

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has decided to enter the natural gas energy business to help fuel its rockets, and is presently in a legal dispute with another natural gas drilling company over rights to drill on a piece of property near its Boca Chica Starship facility.

SpaceX intends to drill wells close to the company’s Boca Chica launchpad, it was revealed during a Friday hearing before the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s energy regulator.

Production has yet to start because of a legal dispute between the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development and another energy company. Tim George, an attorney representing Lone Star, said at the hearing that SpaceX plans to use the methane it extracts from the ground “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”

While it’s unclear what exactly the gas would be used for, SpaceX plans to utilize super-chilled liquid methane and liquid oxygen as fuel for its Raptor engines.

Since methane is the main component of natural gas, I suspect SpaceX hopes to utilize the gas it pumps out to fuel its Starship & Super Heavy rockets. By obtaining the gas from its own wells, SpaceX cuts out any middle men, and has the opportunity to reduce its costs as well.

Another Starship/construction update at Boca Chica

Link here.

The successfully flown fifth Starship prototype has been moved back to its assembly area while the sixth is now on the launchpad being prepped for its own hop. At the same time, the buildings that will be used for all future ship assembly are going up, as well as construction of the launchpad for Super Heavy, the first stage of this giant reusable rocket.

It appears that SpaceX is going to be alternating hops between prototypes 5 and 6, while it preps prototypes 8 and 9. The use of two alternating prototypes not only speeds testing of the vehicle itself, it also speeds testing of the procedures the company will need for transporting these vehicles about, from the assembly building to the launchpad and then from the landing site back to the assembly building.

Except another hop in mere weeks of Starship prototype #6. As for Super Heavy, the article notes this:

What can be confidently assumed is SpaceX is preparing the facility groundwork for the first assembly and testing of Super Heavy by 2021.

Test programs and new vehicles will always stretch schedules. However, there remains the distinct possibility SpaceX could launch their first Super Heavy rocket before the Space Launch System (SLS – the orange one) is due to conduct her maiden launch at the end of next year. [emphasis mine]

Even if Super Heavy does not fly before SLS, I am very confident in predicting that the SpaceX rocket will fly many more times than SLS, and do it not as an expendable rocket but reused each time.

SpaceX to build resort near Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is seeking to hire a manager to lead the design and construction of a resort near Boca Chica for future spaceport customers.

The job posting seeks a manger to “oversee the development of SpaceX’s first resort from inception to completion,” with the ultimate aim of turning Boca Chica into a “21st century Spaceport.” That would include overseeing the entire design and construction process, as well as getting all necessary work permits and regulatory approvals, and completing the ultimate build of the facility.

Makes perfect financial sense, assuming Starship does eventually fly. Customers will need and expect a nice place to stay before and after their flights, and SpaceX has the land and is best positioned for providing it. And even if Starship doesn’t fly, during the rocket’s development there is money to be made providing tourists the best viewpoint for watching test flights, while also creating a source of profit independent of actual flight.

More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

Starship moved to launch site

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype has been transported to its launch site at Boca Chica in preparation for a series of tests prior to its first launch hop, hopefully to a height of 12 miles.

Whether SN01 is still destined for flight, it’s safe to say that Starship SN01 tank testing could begin in a matter of days — SpaceX currently has early-morning roadblocks indicative of such testing scheduled from February 29th to March 2nd. SpaceX is likely to kick off by filling SN01 with water to check its tanks for leaks, followed by liquid nitrogen – chemically neutral but still incredibly cold. After that, SN01 would likely graduate to Raptor engine installation and a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) with liquid oxygen and methane before moving on to a static fire attempt, if all goes well.

I have embedded below the fold a fifteen minute video showing the transport operation. The pace is slow, so I suggest playing it at 2x normal speed, using the settings.

My immediate thought in watching this video is that SpaceX’s mobile transport vehicle certainly cost far less than the two mobile launchers NASA built for SLS (for a cost of about a billion dollars). In fact, SpaceX’s entire Starship development program will likely cost less than what NASA spent on just its mobile launchers.

» Read more

SpaceX extends Boca Chica purchase deadline, will do new appraisals

SpaceX has agreed to do new appraisals on the private homesites in Boca Chica that it wishes to purchase, while also agreeing to extend the deadline for owners to accept their offer.

It appears that Musk invited the owners to his Starship presentation on September 28, and then met with some of them afterward to discuss the situation face to face.

Musk met with seven villagers following the presentation, though others … gave up waiting for him to show.

Cheryl Stevens, who owns a house down the street from the Heatons, did stick around. The meeting was “sort of testy” at first, as the owners confronted Musk with their concerns after waiting a long time, though the mood eventually lightened, she said. “We all had things we wanted to say,” Stevens said. “He was good about listening to what we said, then referring to what we said. … I left there feeling OK. Overall it was fairly cordial, just testy at the beginning. At least we felt like we were heard.”

At the same time, she said, “I’m not interested in giving my house away.”

This is the kind of thing that Musk does very well. Rather than stay in his ivory tower, as most modern big corporate heads, he talks with people directly. I expect SpaceX will end up offering these people deals where they can buy homes relatively comparable to what they have now, in a similar location. This will engender good will, and good press for the company.

Some Boca Chica landowners reject SpaceX offer

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s offer to buy the last homes in the hamlet of Boca Chica for its Starship spaceport has been rejected by some of the landowners.

Their reasons are obvious. They don’t want to move, and they also claim the appraisals SpaceX used to set its price, which the company claims is three times the value of the homes, are too low.

Although the Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket company, in a letter dated Sept. 12 and sent via FedEx, is offering the Heatons three times the appraised value of their home, they say the offer isn’t close to what they’d need to sell. The appraisal conducted by SpaceX is several thousand dollars less than an appraisal the Heatons got through their bank five years ago, Terry said.

“I sent them an email the day after we got this letter, not being sarcastic or anything else,” he said. “I just told them the facts, that (their) appraisal is extremely low.”

If they obtained an appraisal five years ago that is less than SpaceX’s now, than SpaceX is certainly not offering them three times the value of their home.

SpaceX does not have the right to condemn these properties, as does the government. It must reach an equable deal with the landowners. In the case of the Heatons and several others, it sounds like this is going to take a lot of money. They want enough so that they can buy something comparable elsewhere.

SpaceX offers to buy all nearby property to Boca Chica launchsite

SpaceX has made a purchase offer to all the remaining property owners living in close proximity to its Boca Chica launchsite.

The company has sent a letter to all the owners, stating that the company is

…committed to a fair and equitable process for acquiring this real estate” and, to that end, the company hired an independent firm to appraise each property. … SpaceX is offering you three times the independently appraised fair market value of your property. The offer is good through two weeks from the date of this letter.”

It appears from the article at the link that a number of landowners are unwilling to accept this offer. It appears they to want more money, and also do not like the hard-nosed language of SpaceX’s offer.

Since there are not very many landowners, I would not be surprised if they team-up and get their own negotiating team.

Update on SpaceX’s plans for Starship

According to FAA regulatory documents, SpaceX has updated its development plan for Starship, including changes in its overall plans for its Boca Chica facility.

The document also lays out a three-phase test program, which it says “would last around 2 to 3 years”:

Phase 1: Tests of ground systems and fueling, a handful of rocket engine test-firings, and several “small hops” of a few centimeters off the ground. The document also includes graphic layouts, like the one above, showing the placement of water tanks, liquid methane and oxygen storage tanks (Starship’s fuels), and other launch pad infrastructure.

Phase 2: Several more “small hops” of Starship, though up to 492 feet (150 meters) in altitude, and later “medium hops” to about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers). Construction of a “Phase 2 Pad” for Starship, shown below, is also described.

Phase 3: A few “large hops” that take Starship up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the unofficial edge of space — with high-altitude “flips,” reentries, and landings.

The first phase is now complete, with the company shifting into Phase 2.

Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being considered a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.

FAA required SpaceX to up its insurance for Starhopper test

The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space required SpaceX to increase its insurance coverage for this week’s Starhopper test to $100 million, thirty three times higher than their coverage for the previous Starhopper hops.

Lots of information at the link, though in summary it all makes perfect sense.

There are a number of likely reasons the federal regulator required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage, says George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) for more than a decade.

One is that Tuesday’s launch took Starhopper hundreds of feet higher than in July; during the prior flight, SpaceX’s vehicle only went about 60 feet (18 meters) up before landing. “The higher you want to go, the more propellant you’re going to have to load, and the more propellant you load, the bigger the boom if it were to explode,” Nield told Business Insider prior to Tuesday’s launch.

More importantly, their Boca Chica launch site is only a mile and a half from a small village of about twenty people, much closer than any other launchpad in the world. How SpaceX will manage this issue should they wish to test fly their fullscale Starship prototype from this site I really do not know. It could be that they won’t, and will confine all test flights to Kennedy, where they are also building a second Starship prototype.

Update of Starhopper testing in Texas

Link here. Nothing spectacular yet, just steady and relatively quick developments.

I did find one aspect of these events a little disturbing:

In quick order, residents of Boca Chica Village were notified via mail of imminent tests and road closures that would occur as early as this week, the week of 18 March.

The notice to residents revealed that a security checkpoint would be set up on the road leading to Boca Chica Village and that residents would have to show proof of residence in order to gain access to their homes; any passengers in those vehicles would also have to show proof of residence.

This indicates that no guests will be allowed past the security checkpoint during the coming flight test operations of Starhopper.

A hard checkpoint beyond which no access to Boca Chica Beach will be granted will be further down the road.

By what right do the authorities have the power to prevent American citizens from bringing guests to their homes? None. If I lived in this development I would fight this, hard.

Border wall to divide SpaceX’s Texas spaceport?

According to this article, the proposed location of the border wall in Boca Chica will bisect SpaceX’s spaceport facility there, and Democrats are working a deal to prevent this.

This article is part of the full court press being put on by the Democrats, with blatant media help, to block the wall, in any way possible, as I noted previously. I have very serious doubts the wall will cut across SpaceX’s property in any way that is significant, but if it is threatening to do so, the solution would not be to not build a wall there (which is what the Democrats want), but to work out an arrangement where the wall is built on the edge of their property and thus does them no harm.

If no wall is built here, the property then becomes a target for illegals, and thus will create even worst problems for SpaceX.

More updates from SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site

Link here. The article reviews what has been done for the past few months, as well as what has been done most recently. All of this new work appears focused on preparing for test flights of Starship and Super Heavy.

I should note however that I am beginning to sense a little bit of Barnum in this work. The steel-clad Starship Hopper that SpaceX has assembled here is clearly not even close to doing any hopper tests, as it doesn’t appear to have fuel tanks and its engines appear to be mere “placeholders for fit checks.” It looks really really cool, however, and is impossible to hide to the public, so it thus has garnered the company a lot of attention.

SpaceX completes fit test of two sections of Starship hopper

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed a fit test whereby they put the two main sections of their Starship hopper prototype together.

In a burst of activity that should probably be expected at this point but still feels like a complete surprise, SpaceX technicians took a major step towards completing the first Starship hopper prototype by combining the last two remaining sections (aft and nose) scarcely six weeks after assembly began.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also took to Twitter late last week to offer additional details and post what appears to be the first official render of Starship’s hopper prototype, which is now closer than ever before to looking like the real deal thanks to the incredible drive of the company’s southernmost employees. With the massive rocket’s rough aeroshell and structure now more or less finalized, Musk’s targeted February/March hop test debut remains ambitious to the extreme but is now arguably far from impossible.

More details about the status of both the Super Heavy and Starship here. As noted in the first link above, SpaceX is moving very quickly, at a pace unheard of in the rocket industry, to get these hopper prototypes ready for test flights. For example, this new effort at Boca Chica in Texas went from a barren spot to a full facility with a giant spacecraft in less than eight weeks.

Groundwork and licensing begins for first test flights of SpaceX’s Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has apparently begun the licensing process with the FAA for its planned hopper tests for its Super Heavy and Starship heavy lift reusable rockets, it is also accelerating work for those flights at its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.

The applications apparently describe a two-stage testing program divided into low then high altitude flights, “running approximately three times per week.” Meanwhile, at Boca Chica SpaceX has begin building a giant tent as well as other work.

While I doubt they will be able to begin test flights in 2019 as they have announced, it is clear those test flights will happen in the near future.

SpaceX confirms it will do first hopper tests of BFR in Boca Chica

Capitalsm in space: SpaceX has now confirmed that it will do the first hopper flight tests of its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) in its new spaceport facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

They hope to start these flight tests as soon as late 2019, but don’t be surprised if they don’t meet that date. It also appears that these test flights will be of the BFR’s first stage as well as its upper stage, presently dubbed the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS). This upper stage is being designed somewhat like a space shuttle, capable of gliding into the atmosphere in order to shed speed. Unlike the shuttle, however, it will then land vertically.

In related news, the Air Force has admitted that it is having discussions with SpaceX about someday using the BFR to transport cargo from point-to-point, on the Earth.

The article at the link gives the impression that the Air Force is discussing this with multiple companies, but right now the only rocket being designed and built that would be capable of doing this at a reasonable price would be SpaceX’s BFR.

SpaceX cancels Texas subsidy that required Boca Chica operation in 2018

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has canceled a small Texas subsidy that required it to begin operations at its Boca Chica spaceport by September 2018.

The company terminated a deal reached with the office of then-Gov. Rick Perry in late 2013 that earmarked $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund for the future spaceport at Boca Chica beach, which is near Brownsville. The project has experienced delays and SpaceX had received about $400,000 of the money, but it now has paid back all of it.

The deal mandated that, to receive the incentives dollars, the spaceport be operational by Sept. 30 this year and employ 180 people by the end of 2018. It appears SpaceX was unlikely to meet either target.

This does not mean that SpaceX is abandoning the spaceport, only that it can’t meet the schedule required by this subsidy. This also might explain why they requested an additional $5 million from Texas. They knew they were going to lose this $2.3 million subsidy and were lobbying to make up for it with other state funds.

Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

A SpaceX expansion at Boca Chica spaceport?

SpaceX’s request to the Texas government for an additional $5 million commitment might be because the company wants to expand on its original plans for its Boca Chica spaceport, and needs additional infrastructure work from the local authorities.

State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said SpaceX asked legislators to set aside funds to support space-related companies and operations in the state, though the money would not be specifically earmarked for SpaceX or the Boca Chica project. The company also has a rocket development facility in McGregor.

Oliveira, who helped assemble a coalition of key legislators to secure the $5 million in development aid, said some of the money might be used to support rocket operations beyond what SpaceX previously has said it wants to do at Boca Chica. “About a year ago, SpaceX came to me with their concept of a new, larger, expanded plan for Boca Chica Beach,” Oliveira said. “The concept went well beyond conducting launches, and would require new commitments for construction, investment and jobs to support the new operations.”

This could simply be a lobbying technique by Oliveira to get more money. Or it could be because SpaceX has actually decided to expand its plans for Boca Chica, which has the advantage over Florida in that the company would have no scheduling conflicts as the spaceport would be theirs entirely.

SpaceX seeks more government money for Texas spaceport

It appears that SpaceX is asking for an additional $5 million in government subsidies to build local infrastructure for its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.

This new money would be in addition to about $15 million already set aside for SpaceX’s spaceport. It is unclear however what it will exactly pay for.

Update: Meanwhile, the New Mexico state legislature is considering dumping another $10 million to Spaceport America. (Hat tip Robert Pratt) From the article:

Other provisions of the updated budget proposal might raise eyebrows. One is $10 million for Spaceport America to build a new hangar. State officials hope the Spaceport can become a tourist draw.

I don’t know how they can imagine this will ever be a tourist draw, since Spaceport America is a spaceport with practically no customers except for Virgin Galactic, which unlike SpaceX will likely never fly.

Note: A reader noted that I mistakenly wrote that Spaceport America was in Texas in the initial post. The reader is correct. I wrote without thinking, and now have fixed the post.

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