AUSTIN, March 12 - Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, spoke of his plans to develop the first commercial orbital launching site in the world when he testified at a House appropriations committee hearing last Friday.
The site may be built next to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. Gov. Rick Perry, state legislators, the City of Brownsville and Brownsville Economic Development Corporation are working on an incentives package to make sure the launching site is built at Boca Chica, rather than Florida, Georgia or Puerto Rico.
Musk was born and raised in South Africa but lives in Los Angeles. In his testimony he said his grandfather was a U.S. citizen who paid for college by doing rodeo tricks. He made his fortune with PayPal and is CEO of Tesla Motors. Musk made his fortune with PayPal and is CEO of Tesla Motors.
Musk told the House panel all about SpaceX. He said the company employs about 200 people at its rocket testing site in McGregor, Texas. He said the company is about 11 years old and develops rockets and other spacecraft. He said there had been five successful flights for its Falcon 9, rocket, which has a million-pound thrust level. This, he said, is four times the thrust of a 747 aircraft.
Musk said it is disappointing NASA has to use Russia to transport its astronauts. In future, SpaceX will be able to do this, he said.
“In the long term our goal is to make dramatic improvements in the cost of space flight and to ultimately make it accessible to anyone that wants to go,” Musk said. The reason he started the company, he said, was to “advance space technology to the point where it can send people to Mars. I think that will be incredibly exciting.”
Musk said this is where the U.S. should have been headed after it shut down the Apollo program that took astronauts to the Moon. “It is a bit sad that we sent people to the Moon in ’69 and then we lost that ability. It is not a good path,” Musk said. “I don’t think we want to tell our kids that 1969 was our high watermark. That is a terrible thing. So the goal of SpaceX is to try to reverse that trend as much as we can and I think we are doing decent progress in that direction.”
Musk testified that he wants to establish the first commercial orbital launch site in the world. He said previous spaceports have been designed only for suborbital flights. “This is the big leagues here. This is the commercial version of Cape Canaveral. It would be an historical first in the world. It would be of very great significance both to the local economy as well as to the world,” Musk said, pointing out that Cape Canaveral is the second only to Disney World as a tourist draw in Florida. “It gets visitors. It is very exciting to watch a rocket launch. It really is one of the most exciting things you can possibly do. So, I highly recommend it,” Musk said.
Musk said SpaceX is currently in discussion with federal and state regulatory agencies about developing a launch site at Boca Chica. “It all seems to be progressing very well. We are optimistic about making this work in the Boca Chica area. It is looking quite good.” He added that any support Texas can offer would “obviously be helpful.” Musk did confirm his company is looking at other potential launch locations. “Expanding our activities in Florida is one, Georgia, Puerto Rico. There are a few other possibilities. It is not a ‘for sure’ that it will occur but Texas is probably our leading candidate right now,” he said.
SpaceX employs about 3,000 people and has $4 billion of revenue under contract, Musk said. At its Cape Canaveral site, the company spends about $30 million a year. He said that figure is increasing every year. He said the $30 million is direct dollars and that by adding a multiplier for indirect spending would make that amount much, much, greater.
Musk also spoke about the space transportation competitive bidding program the state of Florida has developed. He said it gives out up to $15 million a year and is planning to increase it to $20 million over the next five years.
After the hearing, Musk spoke with reporters about the chances of Texas landing the SpaceX commercial orbital launch site.
“Florida is currently our primary launch location and they are definitely working extremely hard to convince us not to have a second location. We think there is some value to having a second location because, let’s say there is a weather issue, like a weather system with a name on it. That could shut down a launch,” Musk said.
“All things being equal, I think it is better to have more than one location and have it a little bit geographically separate. On the other hand if the economics are so compelling in Florida then that has to be considered as well.”
Gilberto Salinas, executive vice president of Brownsville Economic Development Corporation was at the state Capitol to hear Musk’s testimony.
“Mr. Musk is obviously a very busy man. The fact that he took time out of his busy schedule to come here speaks volumes. Hopefully it is a telling sign of things to come in the near future,” Salinas said.