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    Rio Grande Guardian > Green Guardian > FEATURE
checkVela, Lucio, welcome FAA's environmental statement on SpaceX project
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Last Updated: 29 May 2014
By Luis Montoya
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
BROWNSVILLE, May 29 - Congressman Filemon Vela and state Sen. Eddie Lucio have welcomed the Federal Aviation Administration’s environmental impact statement for the SpaceX private rocket launch project for Boca Chica Beach.

“This is exciting news for South Texas as SpaceX is one step closer to completing the federal permitting process,” said Vela, D-Brownsville. “I congratulate the numerous city, county, and state officials who have worked with SpaceX for years to get to this point.”

Vela said a commercial rocket launch site would be a game changer for South Texas.

“The establishment of a launch facility would be tremendously beneficial to our local economy--bringing high paying jobs and capital investment to South Texas. Each launch would bring thousands of tourists to Cameron County and provide unique educational opportunities for students,” Vela said.

“I will continue to support SpaceX and fellow community leaders as the permitting process nears final completion.”

Sen. Lucio, D-Brownsville agreed.

“I am ecstatic about the release of this long over-due FAA report. The report confirms what the FAA previously indicated, that the launch site would not harm our community's environment,” Lucio said in a news release. “Today completes one of the last important steps in a long journey toward bringing SpaceX to the Valley. As the author of legislation and appropriations measures intended to land the company in Cameron County, I have every confidence that construction of the new site will quickly follow. Our community will soon guide the rest of the nation in advancing space-related enterprise.”

The FCC’s office of commercial space transportation evaluated the potential environmental impacts that could result from the FAA issuing launch licenses and/or experimental permits to allow California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, otherwise known as SpaceX, to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles and a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles from a launch site on privately owned property in Cameron County, three miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under the plan, SpaceX would construct a vertical launch area and a control center area to support up to 12 commercial launch operations per year. Launch operations include not only launches, but also pre-flight activities such as mission rehearsals and static fire engine tests. It would be the first commercial orbital launch site in the U.S.

“After careful and thorough consideration of the facts contained herein and following consideration of the views of those Federal agencies having jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to the environmental impacts described, the undersigned finds that the Proposed Action is consistent with existing national environmental policies and objectives as set forth in Section 101(a) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969(NEPA),” the EIS’s executive summary stated.

To read the full report, click here.

SpaceX has not promised it will build a rocket launch site in South Texas. However, the company has been purchasing land at Boca Chica Beach. “Though Brownsville remains a finalist for the development of a commercial orbital launch complex, the decision will not be made until all technical and regulatory due diligence is complete,” said SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post.

Jason Hilts, president and CEO of Brownsville Economic Development Corporation spoke on KURV Radio this morning, before the final EIS was made public. He said having a favorable EIS does not guarantee that the FAA would issue a launch license to SpaceX. However, he said it was an important step.

“It is exciting news. The report was released yesterday. It should be downloadable today on the Internet,” Hilts said.

Hilts said once the final EIS is published in the Federal Registrar, a Record of Decision (ROD) is issued after 30 days.

“What happens now is that we are on the official time clock. We are going to have 30 days - I guess it started yesterday - of public comment on the final report of the EIS. Then, after 30 days, they will have ten days, from our understanding, to render their decision to allow SpaceX to fly or not to fly out of the Brownsville launch site at Boca Chica Beach,” Hilts told KURV.

Asked what to expect at the launch site, Hilts told KURV: “It is going to sit on 50 acres. We have seen renderings of the site. People are going to be surprised. It is not going to be as big as people think it will be. We are only talking 50 acres. It will have a launch pad, a warehouse where they will do the assembly of the rocket, lightning rod towers, a water tower, a launch control center and a ground tracking station.”

Asked what SpaceX is doing to prepare for the rocket launch project, Hilts said: “They are on this every day. From day one, when we first met them they have been on top of this process. They are working hard, just as everyone in the state has worked hard to try to bring them to Texas and to Brownsville.”

Asked if there is anything else city, county or state officials could do to help the process along, Hilts said: “Everything that was needed to be done has been done. We are all in a good position. Let us just wait for the 30 days to end and then wait for FAA to give their decision. Everyone is still pretty optimistic that it will happen. We will sit and wait day by day now.”

Asked if he could see any “monkey wrenches” getting in the way of the project, Hilts said: “If there is, I am not aware of it.”

Asked about the potential impact of SpaceX on South Texas, Hilts said: “The change in perception of the border region, that we are going to be doing high tech assemblies, we are having a launch site out of Brownsville, Texas, that in itself will be a game changer and it will be a game changer we believe for our kids, something to shoot for.”

Write Luis Montoya


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