In 2012, SpaceX initially selected sites in Alaska, California, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, Georgia, and Virginia for a potential rocket factory and launch facility. But they finally chose Boca Chica, Texas.
So, why did SpaceX choose Boca Chica?
SpaceX chose Boca Chica because it’s near the shoreline, mostly inhabited, near the equator, closer to California, has an experienced and capable workforce in Texas, and Texas state and local legislators offered tax incentives to build a rocket factory and launch site there.
The total height of the Falcon 9 rocket is 229.6 ft (70m).
The height of the Falcon 9 payload fairing is 43 ft (13.1m), the height of the second stage is around 34 ft, the interstage is 22 ft long, and the booster is approximately 130 ft long.
The diameter of the Falcon 9 is 12 ft (3.7m)
SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 from the ground up so that it is transportable by US interstates. That’s why the Falcon 9 diameter is 12 ft because US freeways lanes are 12 ft wide.
SpaceX develops all their rocket parts at Hawthorne, California, including the rocket engines. After testing all rocket parts, SpaceX transports all the Falcon 9 parts, such as payload fairings, first stage, interstage, and booster stage to launch facilities separately.
SpaceX has three launch facilities for the Falcon 9 rocket. These are Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex (SLC-4E), Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex (SLC-40), and Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A).
When all the rocket parts come to a launch facility, SpaceX assembles the Falcon 9 for launch.
As we can see, Falcon 9’s length and diameter is mostly constrained by the US interstates’ lane width and underpass height. But SpaceX’s ultimate goal was not to make this rocket. Their ultimate goal is to build a Mars rocket.
Currently, SpaceX is working on the Starship rocket. The name could be confusing but let us explain the full name of this rocket. Starship is the name of the whole Mars rocket. But the upper stage is also called Starship, and the first stage is called Super Heavy.
We only need the Super Heavy on Earth because of Earth’s high gravitational pull. On the moon and Mars, we don’t need the first stage.
The Starship rocket’s total height is 394 ft (120m), 171% bigger than the Falcon 9.
Unlike Falcon 9, the Starship is 30 ft in diameter. As we have already seen, there’s no way SpaceX can transport this rocket from their Hawthorne, CA, factory to a launch facility. SpaceX knew that they had to build their Starship at the launch facility.
SpaceX does not own any of the three launch facilities — SLC-40, SLC-4A, LC-39A. They currently have lease agreements and are paying millions of dollars monthly to the US government.
They knew that if they owned a launch site, it would save them a lot of money. That’s why they started to look for a location for a rocket manufacturing and launch facility.
According to Elon Musk, occasional flights from land are okay, but frequent flights must be from the ocean and at least 30 km (18mile) away from shore. It’s primarily because of the noise.
Therefore, a launch facility must be near shorelines and must have roads.
The launch site also needs to be near the rocket factory. Otherwise, transportation of rockets would be a massive cost burden.
Though currently, the Falcon 9 costs $60 million per launch and around $40 million when reused, SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to lower the launch cost further.
According to an estimate, Elon Musk is targeting $5 million per launch cost for the Starship. Any extra transportation cost will increase the launch cost. Thus, the launch site must have to be within the contiguous US.
Therefore, Puerto Rico and Alaska is not an optimal location for launch.
The East coast is best for a rocket launch into most orbits. It’s because if a rocket launches into the east, it can take advantage of the Earth’s rotation and save energy.
SpaceX uses the California launch site in Vandenberg Air Force Base to launch satellites to Sun-synchronous and Polar orbits. Starship’s primary purpose is to launch cargo and humans to the Moon and Mars.
Moreover, In the US, the FAA will never allow launching a rocket over land, unlike China or Russia. In China, they launch over land, and empty boosters crash on private property, causing damages. It’s not an issue for them, but the FAA will never allow it to happen in the US.
So, from California, SpaceX will never be able to launch except for polar and sun-synchronous orbit.
Therefore, California is also out of consideration.
SpaceX wanted to have a launch site and factory at the same location. Therefore, they needed a lot of empty lands available for purchase. All of Florida’s east coastline is heavily populated. Therefore, there’s no way SpaceX can buy a vast swathe of land for their rocket factory.
Thus, they also eliminated Florida.
Another critical factor is the proximity to the equator. A rocket that is closer to the equator gets more boost during launch. Georgia and Virginia lack available open land near the shoreline and further away from the equator.
Moreover, the Texas state legislature offered SpaceX tax rebates, but Georgia and Virginia did not. That’s why Georgia and Virginia were out.
There were several other reasons, too, for selecting Texas.
Unlike California, Texas does not have a state income tax. Long before 2020, Elon Musk wanted to move out of California because of very high taxes.
Outside of California, Texas has very high skilled engineers.
Furthermore, Boca Chica is mostly inhabited. Though there is an unincorporated village, only 50 residents were living there. SpaceX also assessed that Boca Chica would not be a problem.
Side Note: Later in the Starship development phase, SpaceX found that their rocket construction and launch will significantly create a safety hazard for the village residents. They were developing Starship 1.8 miles away from the village. For the safety of Boca Chica residents, SpaceX bought the entire community.
SpaceX initially chose Boca Chica to launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. It was a perfect area for a medium-size launch vehicle. They did not seriously commit to this area until they wanted to build the Starship.
Many SpaceX enthusiasts have raised concern that a significant storm can damage the Boca Chica launch site. They should have chosen a place more inland.
However, from the above discussion, we can see that Starship facilities need to be near either shore or offshore. As Elon said in 2019, “most Starship spaceports will probably need to be ~20 miles / 30km offshore for acceptable noise levels, especially for frequent daily flights, as would occur for point to point flights on Earth.”
Can SpaceX or Elon Musk claim Mars?
In 2020, SpaceX’s Starlink started their service. Like every other product, a new Starlink customer has to sign a legal document. In that legal document, there is a term which states that:
“For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.”
Therefore as you can see, if you want to get the Starlink internet, you have to declare, Mars is a free planet.
So, can SpaceX or Elon Musk claim Mars?
Yes, SpaceX can claim Mars because according to a 2015 federal law 114-90, the US government allows a private entity to mine, own, possess, and sell a celestial body, even though the US does not claim it. Therefore, according to that federal law, Elon Musk and SpaceX can claim and mine Mars.
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We also know that SpaceX wants to build a space resort there for future astronauts. There is no other better place than Boca Chica in the US for the Starship launch and space resort. According to Elon Musk, Texas is the gateway to Mars.