The new $1.37 billion border-security deal might save SpaceX's launch site in Texas, where Elon Musk hopes to launch Mars rockets

The new $1.37 billion border-security deal might save SpaceX's launch site in Texas, where Elon Musk hopes to launch Mars rockets

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Copyright Jaime Almaguer

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship rocket stands vertically at the company's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

  • SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is building a spaceship prototype at its launch site in south Texas.
  • Because the site is less than 3 miles from the US-Mexico border, it's embroiled in President Donald Trump's push for a border wall.
  • Department of Homeland Security maps reportedly showed a proposed physical barrier running directly through SpaceX's site.
  • However, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday released a $1.3 billion border-security deal that excludes SpaceX's site from fencing.

Elon Musk's aerospace company, SpaceX, is working around-the-clock to build a rocket-launch site at the southern tip of Texas.

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel "test hopper" vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls Starship. When finished, that system - a Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster stacked together - may stand about 39 stories high.

SpaceX's launch site is between one and three miles from the Mexican border. Firing off rockets to the moon or Mars from that site might be impossible, though, if a border wall cuts through the launch facility. Yet lawmakers said that is precisely what proposed maps from the US Department of Homeland Security showed, according to Bloomberg.

However, a $1.37 billion, 1,159-page border-security agreement drafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would spare SpaceX's nascent launch site from DHS bulldozers.


"None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing ... within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge," the text states.

That wildlife refuge region encompasses SpaceX's 50-acre site launch site.

Why SpaceX's newest launch site might be at risk

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Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

SpaceX's "test hopper," an experimental stainless-steel ship, in Texas. The person at the bottom is for scale.

SpaceX pitched the site to commissioners in Cameron County, Texas, around 2012 as a place to launch up to 12 rockets per year.

Environmental impact statement documents filed by SpaceX suggest the company would annually launch up to 10 missions on the company's workhorse Falcon 9 rockets from the site, and no more than two missions on Falcon Heavy - currently the world's most powerful operational rocket.


But during a May 2018 press briefing, Musk said the South Texas launch site "will be dedicated" to the upcoming Starship system (formerly called "Big Falcon Rocket").

Read more: SpaceX test-fired a Raptor rocket engine with 'insane power' for moon and Mars missions. The future of Elon Musk's company may ride on its unrivaled performance.

But now parts of the site, if not the entire area, is at risk of being taken over by the government, due to a push for a border wall by President Donald Trump.

Trump campaigned on erecting a southern border wall, and recently pushed for about $5.7 billion of taxpayer funding for the physical barrier. That push prompted a 34-day partial shutdown of the US government - the longest in history. About two-thirds of Americans oppose funding a physical border, according to opinion poll data collected in early January.

The new bipartisan compromise does not come close to Trump's desired level of funding, and Trump said Wednesday that he is not happy with the deal, according to the Associated Press. But he has yet to say whether or not he'll sign the legislation into law.


"The wall is getting built, regardless. It doesn't matter because we're doing other things beyond what we're talking about here," Trump said.

For now, US Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing Texas' 28th district, claimed credit for getting language that protects SpaceX's interests into the new agreement.

"This is a big win for the Rio Grande Valley," Rep. Cuellar said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. "I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical. I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border."

SpaceX declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

Some fencing already exists near the SpaceX launch site in South Texas, but it "is full of gaps" that US Customs and Border Patrol agents and landowners "drive through daily," a former local government official who used to live in the area told Business Insider.


However, a physical wall is not all that guards the region.

"There are sensors all over and they know when someone is going through," the official said. "The [Rio Grande] river below that is patrolled by boat, helicopter, drone, and monitored by the blimp."