Next generation might launch from Boca Chica

BROWNSVILLE — SpaceX’s Elon Musk yesterday touched on possible plans for the Boca Chica launch site east of Brownsville involving an even bigger rocket than the one launched Tuesday.

SpaceX is in the process of developing the rocket — Big Falcon Rocket is one name for it — to ultimately send humans to the moon and Mars.

Musk said the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy, counter to his expectations, gave him confidence the BFR “is really quite workable.”

Initially, SpaceX had planned to fly a human on the Falcon Heavy, though Musk has said those plans may be scrapped in order to concentrate on development of the BFR for crewed flights.

Chris Davenport, a reporter for The Washington Post, asked Musk at a Tuesday press conference for specifics about the BFR’s accelerated development timeline and “what that means for your plans for Mars and the moon.”

Musk replied that, with luck, SpaceX will be able to conduct “short hopper flights with the spaceship part of BFR” perhaps next year. In response to a followup question from NBC reporter Tom Costello, Musk explained that “hopper flights” referred to the company’s “Grasshopper program” for its earlier rocket, the Falcon 9, entailing takeoffs to an altitude of several miles from SpaceX’s McGregor test site, followed by controlled landings back to the launch pad.

“We’ll either do that at our South Texas launch site, near Brownsville, or do ship to ship,” he said. “We’re not sure yet whether ship to ship or Brownsville, but most likely it’s going to happen at our Brownsville location, because we’ve got a lot of land with nobody around, and so if it blows up, it’s cool.”

SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, giving a talk Oct. 11 at Stanford University, was quoted as describing Boca Chica as the “perfect location for BFR.”

“It could very well be that the first person that departs for another planet could depart from this location,” Musk said at the September 2014 groundbreaking of the Boca Chica site.

SpaceX, through the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp., has applied for some portion of $5 million the Legislature added to the Texas Spaceport Trust Fund for infrastructure development related to spaceport construction. That’s in addition to more than $15 million the state has committed to SpaceX’s Boca Chica projects, most of which has gone unspent.

State Rep. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville) said the new funding request reflects the fact that SpaceX’s intentions for Boca Chica go “well beyond the original plan.”