SpaceX has been making some exciting moves this summer. On May 30th, their Crew Dragon spacecraft launched on its historic Demo-2 mission, carrying astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the ISS. They safely returned again on August 2nd, shortly after the SN5 prototype conducted the long-awaited 150 m (500 ft) hop test at the company’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
And now, in a move that mirrors what Virgin Galactic is doing at Spaceport America in New Mexico, SpaceX has committed to turning Brownsville – the town nearest to the Boca Chica facility – into its own spaceport. To this end, SpaceX recently posted a job application on its website where they announced they are seeking a Resort Development Manager. Potential applicants should follow the link if they think they’re up to the task!
The posting was first noticed by CNBC space reporter Michael Sheetz, who shared the news via Twitter. According to the job description, the RDM would be responsible for overseeing the “design, architecture, and construction of the project,” as well as obtaining all the necessary approvals (at the city, county, and government level), and serve in the capacity of the project’s superintendent.
Back in February of 2020, SpaceX provided some indications of what this future spaceport would look it. According to a job posting, Musk hoped to convert the village of Boca Chica into the “SpaceX Village.” This “private spaceport with eyes on Mars” would feature 100 rooms and host activities like volleyball tournaments, rock climbing, kayaking and “spaceport lounge events and parties.”
That posting was removed from the site shortly thereafter as SpaceX began encountering resistance from the village residents, with half reportedly refusing to sell their houses at many times their market value. The issue turned ugly rather quickly, with Musk demanding the residents leave so the development of the Starship could continue without all the associated risks and the residents seeking legal counsel.
With this latest job posting, it appears that SpaceX is still committed to turning Boca Chica into a facility similar to what Virgin Galactic is establishing in the New Mexico desert. At present, Spaceport America is VG’s human spaceflight headquarters and the center of their flight operations, providing the infrastructure to conduct launches and the facilities to train its astronauts.
Central to this is the Gateway to Space building, which VG unveiled last year as part of their declaration of “operational readiness.” This two-floor area is where VG houses its vehicles and incorporates communal spaces for customers to gather before and after flights. Given its importance to the realization of Musk’s dream of commercial spaceflights, his goal is no doubt to establish something very similar at Boca Chica.
This news comes shortly after SpaceX posted an application seeking Offshore Operations Engineers and Offshore System Technicians, positions that would also be located in Brownsville and would entail the creation of an offshore rocket launch facility. Musk explained the purpose of building facilities offshore in a reply tweet issued shortly after the positions were posted, saying:
“We need to be far enough away so as not to bother heavily populated areas. The launch & landing are not subtle. But you could get within a few miles of the spaceport in a boat.”
SpaceX hinted at what these offshore facilities might look like in an animated Starship video released back in 2017 (shown below). In that video, the Starship and Superheavy launch system are on a launch platform located off the coast of New York City. After taking on passengers that are brought to the platform by boat, the Starship flies to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and lands on a similar offshore platform near Shanghai.
At the time, this one was of several services Musk was envisioning for the new launch system, which included delivering satellites to orbit, space tourism, and making regular trips to the Moon and Mars. The video highlights how, when completed, the Starship/Superheavy – then-known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) – could provide intercontinental flights between major cities in about thirty minutes.
Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility continues to grow as development, construction, and testing of the Starship continue. Although the company acquired the land next to the small village community (populated largely by retirees) to establish their South Texas Launch Facility back in 2013, it wasn’t until 2018 that the site began to experience intense activity.
Since then, SpaceX has expanded its operations in and around the village, often to the consternation of the locals (they aren’t big fans of rocket launches and/or the occasional explosion, apparently!) Hence why SpaceX’s plans to press ahead with the development of the Starship are tied to the continued growth of the facility.
If Musk hopes to test more prototypes to failure and send a few to orbit, it would be best if there weren’t a community of retirees living nearby!
Further Reading: SpaceX