SpaceX founder Elon Musk is in Austin, Texas today, where he will be testifying before an appropriations committee of the Texas House of Representatives regarding his proposed plan to build a commercial launch facility for Falcon rockets in Cameron County, near Brownsville and only a few miles from the Mexican border. Among the four contenders for the site; Florida, Texas, Georgia and Puerto Rico, the Lone Star state is considered to be in the lead, in part because NASA has refused to transfer to development agency Space Florida, land north of the Kennedy Space Center near the now abandoned town of Shiloh. Recent comments from Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos that his company would also be interested in the Shiloh site as well do not appeared to have altered the circumstances. Texas though, is moving ahead with sense of purpose, as evidenced by a proposal being introduced this week which would permit the state to close adjacent sections of Boca Chica beach during launch activities, excluding the key summer holiday weekends.
One item which has not received much attention where the new spaceport is concerned though, is the possible role to be played by future launch vehicles beyond the current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are composed of 12′ wide body segments which SpaceX regularly hauls across the country on conventional tractor trailers, an almost absurdly cost effective way to transport the rocket, and one that stands in stark contrast to the United Launch Alliance Delta Mariner ship which moves Delta IV and Atlas v body segments from its factory in Decatur Alabama to Cape Canaveral or much worse, Vandenberg. California.
Elon Musk has made no secret of the fact however, that he would very much like to build a significantly larger launch vehicle, one which presumably could not be moved by either interstate or rail. Leaving aside impractical air transport, NASA still operates one Super Guppy, and SpaceX’s headquarters and manufacturing facility is immediately adjacent to Jack Northrop Field, (Hawthorne Municipal Airport), but the lone runway is not built to accommodate heavy aircraft, the remaining options are to follow the lead of NASA and ULA and build the primary stage structure adjacent to water, allowing for barge transport, or to simply build it within short haul distance of the launch pad itself. Although purely speculative, it is worth considering that if the latter solution is chosen, and SpaceX is famously fond of practical choices, then it seems quite possible that there is more on the line than just a launch facility. Wherever SpaceX ultimately decides to locate a new commercial spaceport, a manufacturing facility could follow.