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SpaceX is considering small Texas town for rocket launch site

April 10, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Expansion-minded rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp. may add a small Texas town on the Gulf of Mexico to its list of rocket launch sites.

The Hawthorne company, better known as SpaceX, filed a document with the Federal Aviation Administration saying it was taking its first steps toward establishing a launch pad in Cameron County, Texas.

SpaceX already has a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and is building a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara.

Company spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said SpaceX is considering multiple potential locations around the country for a new commercial launch pad. The area near Brownsville, Texas, along the coast, is a possibility, she said.

"There is a long way to go before this could happen," Grantham said.

Texas has long been associated with the nation's space program because of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. But that's the mission control center, not a rocket launch site.

Only four U.S. states — Virginia, California, Alaska and Florida — have active launch sites.

The new document, which became public Tuesday, declared that SpaceX was preparing an environmental report for a possible launch pad and added that the company was gauging public opinion.

"SpaceX proposes to construct a vertical launch area and a control center area to support up to 12 commercial launches per year," the document said.

Gilberto Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, said that as a city in the southern tip of Texas, Brownsville was ideal for rocket launches.

He added that in the early days of NASA, Brownsville was considered as a possible center for space operations before officials settled on Cape Canaveral. "All these years later, we're glad to be looked at again," Salinas said.

SpaceX builds its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules in a vast complex in Hawthorne where fuselage sections for Boeing's 747 jumbo jets were once built.

The company also has a rocket-testing facility in McGregor, Texas. To date, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule have had two successful test launches from Cape Canaveral.

On April 30, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned capsule are scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral into space, where the Dragon will dock with the International Space Station in a demonstration for NASA.

If successful, SpaceX would be the first private company to dock with the station.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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