SpaceX just got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a 56.5-acre spaceport along the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas-Mexico border—a huge step toward actually making the spaceport a reality.
Wednesday, the FAA, which handles all commercial space launch permitting in the United States, issued what's known as a "Record of Decision" that suggests the agency would grant launch licenses to the company to operate out of a location about 17 miles east of Brownsville. The FAA says it would likely approve any requests from SpaceX to launch as many as 10 Falcon 9 rockets and two Falcon Heavy rockets per year out of the spaceport, through at least 2025.
"This record of decision provides the FAA's final… approval to support the issuance of launch licenses and/or experimental permits that would allow 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, Texas," the decision stated.
Here's what the land looks like. Image: FAA
That's the second bit of good news SpaceX has gotten from the FAA in the last couple months—at the end of May, the agency's environmental impact assessment suggested that the spaceport poses no serious environmental danger. The company has promised to set up a sea turtle monitoring plan, and the FAA also notes that there are ocelots and jaguarundi, two extremely rare wild cats, living in the area. To mitigate the danger to those cats, there will be ocelot crossing warning signs put up, and speed limit for vehicles on the launch site will be limited to 25 miles per hour.
This isn't the end of SpaceX's regulatory race to begin launching from a private facility, however. The company will still need approval from several state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, in order to do things like build new roads and move utility lines.
The FAA's approval, however, should be the last federal hangup before the company can build the spaceport.
Right now, the company is launching its rockets out of Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company has also looked into spaces in Georgia and Florida, but the Texas site is looking like the most promising option—which means it's the best bet for the company's first major spaceport.