SpaceX Starbase

Coordinates: 25°59′49″N 97°09′25″W / 25.997°N 97.157°W / 25.997; -97.157
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SpaceX Starbase
Starbase sign and tank facilities in construction
LocationBoca Chica, Cameron County, Texas, United States
Coordinates25°59′15″N 97°11′11″W / 25.98750°N 97.18639°W / 25.98750; -97.18639
Launch pad(s)3 (2 suborbital, 1 orbital)
Orbital Launch Pad launch history
First launchApril 20, 2023[1]
Suborbital Pad A and B launch history
Launches10 (all atmospheric)
First launch25 July 2019 (Starhopper)[2]
Last launch5 May 2021 (SN15)[3]
Landing history
First landing25 July 2019 (Starhopper)
Last landing5 May 2021 (SN15)
  • Starhopper
  • Starship

Starbase is a spaceport, production, and development facility for Starship rockets, located at Boca Chica, Texas, United States. It has been under construction since the late 2010s by SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer.

When conceptualized, its stated purpose was "to provide SpaceX an exclusive launch site that would allow the company to accommodate its launch manifest and meet tight launch windows."[4] The launch site was originally intended to support launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles as well as "a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles",[4] but in early 2018, SpaceX announced a change of plans, stating that the launch site would be used exclusively for SpaceX's next-generation launch vehicle, Starship.[5] Between 2018 and 2020, the site added significant rocket production and test capacity. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk indicated in 2014 that he expected "commercial astronauts, private astronauts, to be departing from South Texas,"[6] and eventually launching spacecraft to Mars from the site.[7]

Between 2012 and 2014, SpaceX considered seven potential locations around the United States for the new commercial launch facility. Generally, for orbital launches an ideal site would have an easterly water overflight path for safety and be located as close to the equator as possible in order to take advantage of the Earth's rotational speed. For much of this period, a parcel of land adjacent to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas, was the leading candidate location, during an extended period while the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted an extensive environmental assessment on the use of the Texas location as a launch site. Also during this period, SpaceX began acquiring land in the area, purchasing approximately 41 acres (170,000 m2) and leasing 57 acres (230,000 m2) by July 2014. SpaceX announced in August 2014, that they had selected the location near Brownsville as the location for the new non-governmental launch site,[8] after the final environmental assessment completed and environmental agreements were in place by July 2014.[9][10][11] The Orbital Flight Test of Starship made it SpaceX's fourth active launch facility, following three launch locations that are leased from the US government.

SpaceX conducted a groundbreaking ceremony on the new launch facility in September 2014,[12][6] and soil preparation began in October 2015.[13][14] The first tracking antenna was installed in August 2016, and the first propellant tank arrived in July 2018. In late 2018, construction ramped up considerably, and the site saw the fabrication of the first 9 m-diameter (30 ft) prototype test vehicle, Starhopper, which was tested and flown March–August 2019. Through 2021, additional prototype flight vehicles are being built at the facility for higher-altitude tests. By March 2020, there were over 500 people employed at the facility, with most of the work force involved in 24/7 production operations for the third-generation SpaceX launch vehicle, Starship.


Private discussions between SpaceX and state officials about a private launch site began at least as early as 2011.[15] SpaceX CEO Elon Musk mentioned interest in a private launch site for their commercial launches in a September 2011 speech.[16] The company announced in August 2014 that they had chosen Texas as the location for their SpaceX South Texas launch site.[8] Site soil work began in 2015 and major construction of facilities began in late-2018, with rocket engine testing and flight testing beginning in 2019.

The name Starbase began to be used more widely by SpaceX after March 2021 when SpaceX had some discussions described as a "casual enquiry" about incorporating a city to be called Starbase,[17][18] and by early 2022, the Starbase moniker for the SpaceX facilities in south Texas had become common.[19] Starbase is also used sometimes to describe the region of the Boca Chica subdelta peninsula surrounding the SpaceX facilities; see Boca Chica (Texas) § "Starbase", Texas.

Launch site selection and environmental assessment[edit]

As early as April 2007, at least five potential locations were publicly known, including "sites in Alaska, California, Florida,[20] Texas and Virginia."[21] In September 2012, it became clear that Georgia and Puerto Rico were also interested in pursuing the new SpaceX commercial spaceport facility.[22] The Camden County, Georgia, Joint Development Authority voted unanimously in November 2012 to "explore developing an aero-spaceport facility" at an Atlantic coastal site to support both horizontal and vertical launch operations.[23] The main Puerto Rico site under consideration was the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.[4]: 87  By September 2012, SpaceX was considering seven potential locations around the United States for the new commercial launch pad. Since then, the leading candidate location for the new facility was a parcel of land adjacent to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas.[24]

By early 2013, Texas remained the leading candidate for the location of the new SpaceX commercial launch facility, although Florida, Georgia and other locations remained in the running. Legislation was introduced in Texas to enable temporary closure of State beaches during launches, limit liability for noise and other commercial spaceflight risks, as well as considering a package of incentives to encourage SpaceX to locate at Brownsville, Texas.[25][26] 2013 economic estimates showed SpaceX investing approximately US$100 million in the development and construction of the facility[26] A US$15 million incentive package was approved by the Texas Legislature in 2013.[27]

In April 2012, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation initiated a Notice of Intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement[28] and public hearings on the new launch site, which would be located in Cameron County, Texas. The summary then indicated that the Texas site would support up to 12 commercial launches per year, including two Falcon Heavy launches.[29][30][21] The first public meeting was held in May 2012,[30][31] and the FAA released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the location in south Texas in April 2013. Public hearings on the draft EIS occurred in Brownsville, followed by a public comment period ending in June 2013.[32][33][34] The draft EIS identified three parcels of land—total of 12.4 acres (5.0 ha)—that would notionally be used for the control center. In addition, SpaceX had leased 56.6 acres (22.9 ha) of land adjacent to the terminus of Texas State Highway 4, 20 acres (8.1 ha) of which would be used to develop the vertical launch area; the remainder would remain open space surrounding the launch facility.[4] In July 2014, the FAA officially issued its Record of Decision concerning the Boca Chica Beach facility, and found that "the proposal by Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies would have no significant impact on the environment,"[35] approving the proposal and outlining SpaceX's proposal.[35] The company formally announced selection of the Texas location in August 2014.[8]

In September 2013, the State of Texas General Land Office (GLO) and Cameron County signed an agreement outlining how beach closures would be handled in order to support a future SpaceX launch schedule. The agreement is intended to enable both economic development in Cameron County and protect the public's right to have access to Texas state beaches. Under the 2013 Texas plan, beach closures would be allowed but were not expected to exceed a maximum of 15 hours per closure date, with no more than three scheduled space flights between the Saturday prior to Memorial Day and Labor Day, unless the Texas GLO approves.[34]

In 2019, the FAA completed a reevaluation of the SpaceX facilities in South Texas, and in particular the revised plans away from a commercial spaceport to more of a spaceship yard for building and testing rockets at the facility, as well as flying different rockets—SpaceX Starship and prototype test vehicles—from the site than the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy envisioned in the original 2014 environmental assessment.[36] In May and August 2019, the FAA issued a written report with a decision that a new supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would not be required.[37][38] In May 2021, the FAA issued a written FAQ regarding the FAA's Environmental Review of SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Operations at the Boca Chica Launch Site.[39]

Throughout 2022, Starship's first integrated flight test was delayed extensively, due to delays in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issuing a license, to allow findings on environmental impact. On 13 June 2022, the FAA announced that Starbase was not creating a significant impact on the environment, yet listed more than 75 actions to be taken before review for an orbital launch license. Some of these actions included a $5,000 contribution to wildlife nonprofits in the area, making sure roadways stay open on certain days of the year, and actions to protect local sea turtle populations.[40]

Land acquisition[edit]

Prior to a final decision on the location of the spaceport, SpaceX began purchasing a number of real estate properties in Cameron County, Texas, beginning in June 2012.[32] By July 2014, SpaceX had purchased approximately 41 acres (170,000 m2) and leased 57 acres (230,000 m2) near Boca Chica Village and Boca Chica Beach[41] through a company named Dogleg Park LLC, a reference to the "dogleg" type of trajectory that rockets launched from Boca Chica will be required to follow.[42]

Prior to May 2013, five lots in the Spanish Dagger Subdivision in Boca Chica Village, adjacent to Highway 4 which leads to the proposed launch site, had been purchased. In May 2013, SpaceX purchased an additional three parcels, adding another 1 acre (4,000 m2),[32] plus four more lots with a total of 1.9 acres (7,700 m2) in July 2013, making a total of 12 SpaceX-purchased lots.[27] In November 2013, SpaceX substantially "increased its land holdings in the Boca Chica Beach area from 12 lots to 72 undeveloped lots" purchased, which encompass a total of approximately 24 acres (97,000 m2), in addition to the 56.5 acres (229,000 m2) leased from private property owners.[33] An additional few acres were purchased late in 2013, raising the SpaceX total "from 72 undeveloped lots to 80 lots totaling about 26 acres."[43] In late 2013, SpaceX completed a replat of 13 lots totaling 8.3 acres (34,000 m2) into a subdivision that they have named "Mars Crossing."[44][45]

In February 2014, they purchased 28 additional lots that surround the proposed complex at Boca Chica Beach, raising the SpaceX-owned land to approximately 36 acres (150,000 m2) in addition to the 56-acre (230,000 m2) lease.[44] SpaceX's investments in Cameron County continued in March 2014, with the purchase of more tracts of land, bringing the total number of lots it owned to 90. Public records showed that the total land area that SpaceX then owned through Dogleg Park LLC was roughly 37 acres (150,000 m2). This is in addition to 56.5 acres (229,000 m2) that SpaceX then had under lease.[46] By September 2014, Dogleg Park completed a replat of lots totaling 49.3 acres (200,000 m2) into a second subdivision, this one named "Launch Site Texas", made up of several parcels of property previously purchased. This is the site of the launch site itself while the launch control facility is planned two miles west in the Mars Crossing subdivision. Dogleg Park has also continued purchasing land in Boca Chica, and as of 2014 owned a total of "87 lots equaling more than 100 acres".[45]

SpaceX has also bought and is modifying several residential properties in Boca Chica Village, but apparently planning to leave them in residential use, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the launch site.[47]

In September 2019, SpaceX extended an offer to buy each of the houses in Boca Chica Village for three times the fair market value along with an offer of VIP invitations to future launch events. The 3x offer was said to be "non-negotiable." Homeowners were given two weeks for this particular offer to remain valid.[48]

In January 2023, Musk shared that SpaceX had acquired nearby Massey's gun range, now known as Massey's rocket test facility.[49]


Major site construction at SpaceX's launch site in Boca Chica got underway in 2016, with site soil preparation for the launch pad in a process said to take two years, with significant additional soil work and significant construction beginning in late 2018. By September 2019, the site had been "transformed into an operational launch site – outfitted with the ground support equipment needed to support test flights of the methane-fueled Starship vehicles."[50] Lighter construction of fencing and temporary buildings in the control center area had begun in 2014.[45][51]

The Texas launch location was projected in the 2013 draft EIS to include a 20 acres (81,000 m2) vertical launch area and a 12.2 acres (49,000 m2) area for a launch control center and a launch pad directly adjacent to the eastern terminus of Texas State Highway 4.[4] Changes occurred based on actual land SpaceX was able to purchase and replat for the control center and primary spaceship build yard.

SpaceX broke ground on the new launch site in September 2014,[12] but indicated then that the principal work to build the facility was not expected to ramp up until late 2015[6] after the SpaceX launch site development team completed work on Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A, as the same team was expected to manage the work to build the Boca Chica facility. Advance preparation work was expected to commence ahead of that. As of 2014, SpaceX anticipated spending approximately US$100 million over three to four years to build the Texas facility, while the Texas state government expected to spend US$15 million to extend utilities and infrastructure to support the new spaceport.[6] The design phase for the facility was completed by March 2015.[52] In the event, construction was delayed by the destruction of one of SpaceX two Florida launch facilities in a September 2016 rocket explosion, which tied up the launch site design/build team for over a year.

In order to stabilize the waterlogged ground at the coastal site, SpaceX engineers determined that a process known as soil surcharging would be required. For this to happen, some 310,000 cubic yards (240,000 m3) of new soil was trucked to the facility between October 2015 and January 2016.[13][53] In January 2016, following additional soil testing that revealed foundation problems, SpaceX indicated they were not planning to complete construction until 2017, and the first launch from Boca Chica was not expected until late 2018.[14][53][54] In February 2016, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell stated that construction had been delayed by poor soil stability at the site, and that "two years of dirt work" would be required before SpaceX could build the launch facility, with construction costs expected to be higher than previously estimated.[55] The first phase of the soil stabilization process was completed by May 2016.[56]

A tracking station antenna installed at the control center

Two 9 m (30 ft) S-band tracking station antennas were installed at the site in 2016–2017.[57] They were formerly used to track the Space Shuttle during launch and landing[58][59] and made operational as tracking resources for crewed Dragon missions in 2018.

A SpaceX-owned 6.5-acre (26,000 m2) photovoltaic power station was installed on site to provide off-grid electrical power near the control center,[11][60][61] The solar farm was installed by SolarCity in January 2018.

Progress on building the pad had slowed considerably through 2017, much slower than either SpaceX or Texas state officials had expected when it was announced in 2014. Support for SpaceX, however, remained fairly strong amongst Texas public officials.[57] In January 2018, COO Shotwell said the pad might be used for "early vehicle testing" by late 2018 or early 2019 but that additional work would be required after that to make it into a full launch site.[62] SpaceX achieved this new target, with prototype rocket and rocket engine ground testing at Boca Chica starting in March 2019, and suborbital flight tests starting in July 2019.

In late 2018, construction ramped up considerably, and the site saw the development of a large propellant tank farm including a 95,000 gallon horizontal liquid oxygen tank[63] and 80,000 gallon liquid methane tank,[64] a gas flare, more offices, and a small flat square launch pad. The Starhopper prototype was relocated to the pad in March 2019, and first flew in late July 2019.[65]

In late 2018, the "Mars Crossing" subdivision developed into a shipyard, with the development of several large hangars, and several concrete jigs, on top of which large steel rocket airframes were fabricated, the first of which became the Starhopper test article. In February 2019, SpaceX confirmed that the first orbit-capable Starship and Super Heavy test articles would be manufactured nearby, at the "SpaceX South Texas build site."[66] By September 2019, the facility had been completely transformed into a new phase of an industrial rocket build facility, with workers working multiple shifts and more than five days a week, able to support large rocket ground and flight testing.[50] As of November 2019 the SpaceX south Texas Launch Site crew has been working on a new launch pad for its Starship/Super Heavy rocket; the former launch site has been transformed to an assembly site for the Starship rocket.[67]

On 7 March 2021, it was revealed by Michael Baylor on Twitter that the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site may eventually expand to the south. The expansion could see the addition of two suborbital test stands along with one orbital launch pad code-named Orbital Launch Mount B. The expansion could also include a new landing pad, an expansion to the existing tank farm, a new tank farm situated next to the proposed Orbital Launch Mount B, expanded Suborbital Pad B decking and two integration towers situated to under-construction Orbital Launch Mount A and the proposed Orbital Launch Mount B.[68]

In March 2021, SpaceX received a "Determination of no hazard to air navigation" from the FAA for the 146 m (479 ft) launch tower that SpaceX is building that is intended to support orbital launches.[69] The period of construction shown on the FAA documents was April–July 2021 but the expiration date on the regulatory approval was 18 September 2021.[70]

The launch tower was fully stacked by late July 2021, when a crane lifted the ninth and final large steel section to the top of the tower at the orbital launch site (OLS). The tower is designed to have a set of large arms attached which is used to stack both Super Heavy and the Starship second stage on the adjacent launch mount and, eventually, catch the rocket on return to the launch site as well. There is no separate large crane attached to the top of the tower.[71] The launch mount ("Stage Zero") began construction in July 2020 when the rebar of the deep foundation began to rise above the ground. Soon six large steel circular launch supports rose from the ground[72] which would eventually support the massive weight of the launch table some ten months later. The mount was built to full height on 31 July 2021 with the rollout and craning into place of the 370 t (370,000 kg; 820,000 lb) launch table, which had been custom built at the manufacturing site over the preceding months.[71] Musk has commented that Stage Zero would be all that is necessary to both launch and catch the rocket, and that building it is at least as difficult as the booster or ship.[71] As of 2 August 2021, launch mount and launch tower plumbing, electrical, and ground support equipment connections were yet to be completed. Soon after tests for Starships were paused, production started to ramp up for the first orbital test flight. SpaceX workers started building GSE tanks, cryogenic shells, Starship SN20, and Super Heavy Booster 4. As SN20 was completed, and Booster 4 and SN20 were rolled out to the launch site for a full stack. On 6 August 2021, SN20 was stacked on top of Booster 4 for fit checks and compatibility testing with the tower. SpaceX workers soon took SN20 and Booster 4 back to the production site.[citation needed] The launch pad and ground support equipment, including shielding, were completed by April 2023.[citation needed]

On 20 April 2023, Starbase hosted the first launch of the fully stacked Ship 24/Booster 7. The launch ended in an uncontrolled spin due to ignited propellant leaks in the engine control systems, and the rocket's flight termination system detonated four minutes after launch at 39 km (24 miles) altitude, and did not reach orbit,[73] yet Musk classified the launch as a success as he had not expected it to clear the launchpad.[citation needed]


Vertical launch area of the SpaceX Texas facility, from the FAA draft EIS, April 2013

The South Texas Launch Site is SpaceX's fourth active launch facility, and its first private facility. As of 2019, SpaceX leased three US government-owned launch sites: Vandenberg SLC 4 in California, and Cape Canaveral SLC-40 and Kennedy Space Center LC39A both in Florida.

The launch site is in Cameron County, Texas,[25] approximately 17 miles (27 km) east of Brownsville, with launch flyover range over the Gulf of Mexico.[4] The launch site is planned to be optimized for commercial activity, as well as used to fly spacecraft on interplanetary trajectories.[7]

Launches on orbital trajectories from Brownsville will have a constrained flight path, due to the Caribbean Islands as well as the large number of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX has stated that they have a good flight path available for the launching of satellites on trajectories toward the commercially valuable geosynchronous orbit.[74]

Although SpaceX initial plans for the Boca Chica launch site were to loft robotic spacecraft to geosynchronous orbits, Elon Musk indicated in September 2014 that "the first person to go to another planet could launch from [the Boca Chica launch site]",[75] but did not indicate which launch vehicle might be used for those launches. In May 2018, Elon Musk clarified that the South Texas launch site would be used exclusively for Starship.[5]

By March 2019, two test articles of Starship were being built, and three by May.[76] The low-altitude, low-velocity Starship test flight rocket was used for initial integrated testing of the Raptor rocket engine with a flight-capable propellant structure, and was slated to also test the newly designed autogenous pressurization system that is replacing traditional helium tank pressurization as well as initial launch and landing algorithms for the much larger 9-metre-diameter (29 ft 6 in) rocket.[77] SpaceX developed their reusable booster technology for the 3-meter-diameter Falcon 9 from 2012 to 2018. The Starhopper prototype was also the platform for the first flight tests of the full-flow staged combustion methalox Raptor engine, where the hopper vehicle was flight tested with a single engine in July/August 2019,[78] but could be fitted with up to three engines to facilitate engine-out tolerance testing.[77]

The launch site has been the main production and testing site of the Starship/Super Heavy system. All Starship vehicles have been constructed here except the Mk2 prototype, which was built in Florida but never completed, and eventually scrapped.[79]

By March 2020, SpaceX had doubled the number of employees onsite for Starship manufacturing, test and operations since January, with over 500 employees working at the site. The employees work in four 12-hour shifts distributed throughout the day, with 4 days on, then 3 off for a given week, followed by 3 days on and 4 off for the next—to enable continuous Starship manufacturing with workers and equipment specialized to each task of serial Starship production.[67] A 1 MW solar farm and a 3.8 MWh battery supplies some of the electricity.[80]

In September 2022, during a first test firing of all six engines of the Starship prototype, scattered hot debris ignited a SpaceX dumpster, and caused a bushfire in the nearby Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, an environmentally sensitive area, ultimately destroying 68 acres before the fire could be doused.[81][82][83]

In May 2023, a couple weeks after retiring from NASA, ex-head of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders joined SpaceX to oversee operations at Starbase to "give government customers comfort and confidence that Starship is going to be a *real thing* around which they can base future plans and operations."[84][85]


Orbital launch site[edit]

The orbital launch site consists of three main components: the tank farm, the orbital launch mount and the integration tower. The first is home to many horizontal and vertical tanks, responsible for storing oxygen and methane, the rocket's propellants, as well as nitrogen and water. The orbital launch mounts is where the booster sits and undergoes similar tests to those of Starship at the orbital launch site. The orbital launch mount incorporates systems that provide support to the rocket as well as holding it firmly in place above a massive steel plate with embedded flame deflector and sound suppression systems in the form of water jets.[86] Once a launch takes place, the mechanical clamps release to allow the liftoff of the vehicle. Finally, the integration tower provides fuel and electrical connections to the rocket through quick-disconnect arms, and, in the future, will be responsible for catching Super Heavy as it comes back down to Earth.

Suborbital launch site[edit]

The suborbital launch site has two test stands, where Starship spacecrafts undergo spin-prime tests and static fire testing.[87] The role of performing cryogenic testing was once done at the Suborbital launch site, but has now been moved to the Massey's Test Site.

Production site[edit]

The production site, also known as the build site, is where all of the Starship prototypes are built and assembled.[88] It consists of the Starfactory, a factory which focuses on making parts of the Starship and Super Heavy parts, notably the rolls of steel that make up both vehicles' bodies. Most of these elements are assembled in tents, but, as of June 2023, the Starfactory is seeing some expansion work done that will, in the long term, allow for mass production of the Starship and Super Heavy elements.

The production site also houses two bays, which are responsible for assembling the final vehicles.[89] The High Bay focuses on the assembly of Starship spacecrafts, while the Mega Bay is home to many Super Heavy vehicles during their development phase. As of June 2023, a second Mega Bay is under construction.

Massey's Test Site[edit]

The Massey's Test Site is where the majority of SpaceX's design tests take place. As of July 2023, the Massey's Test Site is the location for Ship and Super Heavy cryogenic testing.


The new launch facility was projected in a 2014 study to generate US$85 million of economic activity in the city of Brownsville and eventually generate approximately US$51 million in annual salaries from some 500 jobs projected to be created by 2024.[90]

A local economic development board was created for south Texas in 2014—the Cameron County Space Port Development Corporation (CCSPDC)—in order to facilitate the development of the aerospace industry in Cameron County near Brownsville. The first project for the newly established board is the SpaceX project to develop a launch site at Boca Chica Beach.[91] In May 2015, Cameron County transferred ownership of 25 lots in Boca Chica to CCSPDC, which were stated could be used in the future to develop event parking.[92][needs update]

Effects on nearby homeowners[edit]

The launch facility was approved for construction two miles from approximately thirty homes, with no indication that this would cause problems for the homeowners. Five years later in 2019, following an FAA revaluation of the environmental impact[36] and the issuance of new FAA requirements that residents be asked to voluntarily stay outside their houses during particular tanking and engine ignition tests, SpaceX decided that a couple dozen of these homes were too close to the launch facility over the long term and sought acquisition of these properties.[93][needs update] An attorney with expertise on such situations referred to the timeframe given[clarification needed][94] by SpaceX for homeowners to consider their purchase offer as "aggressive".[95]

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service claimed that SpaceX had caused 1,000 hours of highway closures in 2019, well above the permitted 300 hours.[96] In June 2021, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz threatened to prosecute SpaceX for unauthorized road and beach closures, as well as employing security officers who may not be licensed to carry handguns.[97][98][99]

Environmental concerns[edit]

Some residents of Boca Chica Village, Brownsville, and environmental activists criticized the Starship development program, stating that SpaceX had harmed local wildlife, conducted unauthorized test flights along with infrastructure construction, and polluted the area with noise.[100][101] Environmental groups warned that the program threatens wildlife in the area, including 18 vulnerable and endangered species.[102] A rare beetle species, the Boca Chica Flea Beetle (Chaetocnema rileyi), is known only from the beachside dune system next to the launchpad.[103][better source needed] The spaceport is built under the assumption that the Falcon Heavy rocket would launch there, thus creating a large radius where Starship debris can land on.[104]

During the SN8 launch, SpaceX ignored FAA warnings that the flight profile posed a risk of explosion.[105] Following the launch, the FAA's Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith commented that SpaceX does not have a strong safety culture for not conducting thorough checks and following the FAA's statements.[105] Members of the United States Congress voiced concerns about the FAA's response. However, the FAA Administrator stated that while SpaceX had done several corrections for those violations, the FAA would not approve further flights if SpaceX did not continue to perform those corrections.[106] David Newstead, the director of one local environmental group, said that the explosion of SN11 left rocket debris on parts of the wildlife refuge that took three months to clean up.[107]

The FAA allowed the public to comment until 1 November 2021 on the environmental impact statement draft that they released on 19 September 2021.[108] SpaceX's environmental assessment missed important details about the propellant source. One such example is SpaceX's plan of building a 250-megawatt gas-fired power plant without specifying how it would obtain tens of millions of cubic feet of gas per day. Pat Parenteau, a law professor and senior counsel for the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School, stated that it was unusual to exclude such details, which could violate the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act.[109]

Before the SpaceX Starship orbital test flight on April 20, 2023, 27 organizations including the Sierra Club, South Texas Environmental Justice Network, Another Gulf is Possible, Voces Unidas, Trucha, and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe signed a letter expressing their concerns and opposition to it. They cited gentrification and overpolicing of the area, wildlife habitat, accessible fishing, and native ceremony disruption, and high risk of explosive and methane-emitting accidents, among others.[110] After the launch, a representative of Another Gulf also criticized the launch's noise levels, blasting of concrete and silt dust on Port Isabel residents 10 km (6.5 miles) away, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's approval that same day of new liquefied natural gas terminals within close proximity of Port Isabel.[111][112] CNBC reported that representatives from the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity said the blast's particulate ejecta could have negative effects on Port Isabel residents and endangered species' health, and that the blast prevented wildlife biologists from inspecting the area until April 22.[113] The launch scattered debris across 385 acres (156 ha) of SpaceX property and Boca Chica State Park, though no debris was found on refuge fee-owned lands. It also started a wildfire that burned 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) of state park land to the south of the pad. A US Fish and Wildlife Service survey found no evidence of dead birds or other wildlife following the launch,[114] though Texas Public Radio reported that a quail's nest was charred.[115]

On May 1, ten days after the launch, the Tribe and four environmental groups including the Center sued the FAA for allegedly granting the launch license, in the plaintiffs' view, "too early".[116][117][118] SpaceX would later join the FAA as a co-defendant in order to "fight off" the environmental groups' lawsuit over Starship.[119] SpaceX stated the suit could potentially "significantly delay" its Starship program, which in turn would cause "severe injury" to SpaceX's business, the U.S. government, and private customers.[120][121]

SpaceX later built a water deluge system underneath the launch pad from July 5 to July 17, testing it at full pressure for the first time on July 28. However, SpaceX ignored procedures required by state and federal laws, including specifying the water mix's composition, where it will drain into, and how much of it will be used, to apply for permits to test the system.[86]

Economic impacts[edit]

The economic impacts of the spaceport have included an influx of jobs into the area, mostly high-skill, high-wage careers.[122] In addition, The Wall Street Journal found that Musk had plans in place to start a town near SpaceX and Boring Company facilities, dubbed "Snailbrook", wherein its employees would live and work.[123][124] These plans were met with significant backlash and controversy.[125] Additionally, local housing activists had cited concerns about gentrification displacing locals back in May 2022,[126][127][128] with these concerns only resurfacing in light of recent events.[129]

There are also concerns about who will regulate the spaceport, as NASA is not a regulatory agency, and the FAA lacks experience with space travel. As of May 2023, the FAA is overseeing SpaceX's investigation of the April 20 launch and explosion, and had granted one license for that launch only.[73] Whether the space industry will implement plans for Brownsville to become a research center remains unknown.[130]

Research facilities[edit]

The Brownsville Economic Development Council (BEDC) was building a space tracking facility in Boca Chica Village on a 2.3-acre (9,300 m2) site adjacent to the SpaceX launch control center. The STARGATE tracking facility is a joint project of the BEDC, SpaceX, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly the University of Texas at Brownsville at the time the agreement was reached).[45][needs update]


In January 2016, the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Advisory Board (CVA) recommended that the South Padre Island City Council "proceed with further planning regarding potential SpaceX viewing sites."[131] The spaceport causes beach closures at Boca Chica beach during rocket launches.[132] The beaches on South Padre Island are not closed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NASA chief hails SpaceX's 1st Starship launch despite explosion". 20 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Starhopper successfully conducts debut Boca Chica Hop". 25 July 2019.
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External links[edit]

25°59′49″N 97°09′25″W / 25.997°N 97.157°W / 25.997; -97.157