SpaceX Plans McGregor Expansion

Image Credit SpaceX

The Waco-Tribune reports that SpaceX is planning a significant expansion of its McGregor, Tx. rocket development facility near Waco.

From the story:

“SpaceX is proposing to invest $46.3 million in the site during the next five years. That will consist of about $32.4 million in real property improvements and $13.9 million in personal property improvements.

SpaceX will add 300 new jobs by Dec. 31, 2018, with employees receiving benefits and an average hourly wage of $28.85, or about $60,000 a year. To receive incentive money, the company must fill 240 positions with people living in McLennan County, and 120 must reside in Waco.”

As with other recent moves, the plans are are contingent upon the company receiving some local incentives, in this case a total of $3 million in funds from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp.

As for the specific nature of the expansion, neither SpaceX nor local officials are saying very much at the moment, but two items items on the agenda for 2015; development of the Falcon Heavy triple core booster and a flight program for the DragonFly test vehicle for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program could be likely contributors. On the other hand, with the latter program expected to last a maximum of two years, it seems very unlikely that the two projects could demand what would amount to a more than doubling of the current staff of 241.

So, what might be driving the expansion? One clue might be found in the five year time frame, which would see the project completed by December 31st 2018. Following a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Stennis Space Center earlier this year, SpaceX has been very quiet regarding its plans for the 1.8 million pound thrust Raptor methane powered engine. Comments from SpaceX personnel at that time suggested that while Stennis would see early testing of the powerhead, McGregor would ultimately be involved in testing as well. With SpaceX having yet to introduce the Falcon Heavy, still pursuing reusability, and soon to move into the final phase of the Commercial Crew program, observers could be forgiven for concluding that the new project while exciting, would be very much on the back burner for some time to come.

Four month’s later however, SpaceX’s domestic main competitor, United Launch Alliance, announced its own alternative fueled engine project, a joint venture with Blue Origin to produce the BE-4 LNG main engine. For ULA, which thanks to new legislation has no choice but to transition away from the Russian RD-180 main engine and the Atlas V,  a timely and successful campaign is an absolute imperative. The first flight, intended to take place in 2019, would put ULA in a position to offer a new booster at just the right time, when the current phase of the EELV program is drawing to a close.

For SpaceX, still fighting an uphill battle in court and on the launchpad against the ULA chokehold on the EELV program, it may be just as important to ensure that its politically connected rival does not enter 2019 uncontested, wowing the Air Force with the bright blue glow of its new booster. The likely answer? A Raptor program targeting the same date.

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2 Comments on "SpaceX Plans McGregor Expansion"

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  1. Yes, but really, what’s the Raptor going to be used for? Something that huge (bigger than the F1!) has only one obvious purpose, and that’s going to Mars. Which is not a commercial venture.

    The BE-4 is a logical replacement for an Atlas-V class launcher, but it’s not as obviously appropriate for a re-usable first stage, which (as SpaceX has shown) requires much less thrust when you’re landing an empty fuel tank. That means that if they want to make BE-4 the starting point for a reusable vehicle, they’re going to have to be able to throttle it down to very, very low levels. Not impossible, but it’s a challenge for an engine to operate efficiently in two completely different thrust regimes.

    So I see the events of late 2018 playing out as a Kabuki dance, full of pretty pictures and hype, but with limited commercial potential on either side.

    • Zed_WEASEL says:

      The BE-4 engine could be use in a reusable launch vehicle. Since throttling is only require just before touchdown. If you have smaller methane-LOX auxiliary engines for landing and boost augmentation at takeoff. The auxiliary engines should be optimized for operations at low altitude. So you have to increase the tankage of the core and delete some of the strapped-on solid booster motors. An Upgraded Blue Atlas in other words. Someone will have to developed something like the BE-3 engine using Methane-LOX and some sort of landing system for the core.

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