Pieces of SpaceX’s ambitious plans to expand its sizable foothold in Texas were on full display this week in three very different corners of the internet. CEO Elon Musk speculated on Twitter about a proposed city in Texas named Starbase, while new job descriptions on the company’s website hinted at an anticipated “state of the art” factory for mass-producing Starlink satellites. And the company made its latest move in a protracted legal fight for a methane-rich piece of land that will supply fuel for Starship.
Here’s a breakdown of the latest details.
Musk, who has said he’s moving to Texas and committed to more projects in the state last year to spite California’s pandemic restrictions, said on Tuesday he’s aiming to create a city called “Starbase” in Texas, teasing a new idea on Twitter as his space company expands its footprint elsewhere in the state.
That footprint, first planted in the Lone Star state over a decade ago, is growing rapidly under Musk’s dogged effort to build a “gateway to Mars.” SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, but development for its Mars rocket Starship is primarily based in the more business-friendly state of Texas. Local and state incentives and wealth of prime real estate for building reusable, orbital-class rockets have catered to Musk’s speedy development timeline.
“Creating the city of Starbase, Texas,” he tweeted on Tuesday, adding in a response to a Twitter user that Starbase would encompass “an area much larger than Boca Chica” — the small community in south Texas that’s currently home to SpaceX’s growing test and production facility for Starship.
SpaceX hasn’t made any official effort to rename Boca Chica, besides approaching county officials with the idea of incorporating a city in recent days, officials in Cameron County said.
“If SpaceX and Elon Musk would like to pursue down this path, they must abide by all state incorporation statutes,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño said in a statement. “Cameron County will process any appropriate petitions in conformity with applicable law.”
Musk’s Starbase tweet came as SpaceX posted a new job opening for remote engineers in Austin, where it said the company is “breaking ground on a new, state of the art manufacturing facility” that will aim to “manufacture millions of consumer facing devices that we ship directly to customers (Starlink dishes, Wi-Fi routers, mounting hardware, etc).”
“Up to 25% travel to SpaceX Headquarters in Los Angeles, until Austin facility is fully established,” one of the job requirements for the position read. The Starlink manufacturing facility would become Musk’s second Austin-based venture. Last year, Musk announced that Tesla would build Gigafactory Texas, a $1 billion, 4-5 million square foot facility currently under construction. Musk has said it will “basically be an ecological paradise” for the public and the company’s expected workforce of 5,000 employees.
Musk’s shift from California seems to be accelerating SpaceX’s growth in Texas that began several years ago. In 2013, Texas created a Spaceport Development Corporation that has since doled out $13.2 million in economic incentives for SpaceX. And the company’s rocket engine development facility in McGregor, Texas, first leased in 2003, is undergoing a $10 million upgrade, with $2 million in subsidies from local governments.
La Pita Wells
Two LLCs created by SpaceX, Dogleg Park and Lone Star Mineral Development, have been buying up dozens of properties in Boca Chica surrounding the company’s Starship plant. A few miles from Boca Chica, Lone Star secured an oil and gas lease from a company called Sanchez Oil and Gas Corporation to revive two inactive wells dubbed La Pita Wells. SpaceX plans to use the wells to extract methane, one of the two propellants used for its new Raptor engine that powers Starship.
But in true SpaceX fashion, the situation has gotten complicated. Lone Star’s bid to operate the wells now faces a legal fight. Dallas Petroleum Group, an oil and gas company operating in South Texas, says it owns the wells. In a lawsuit waged against SpaceX’s LLCs and Sanchez, Dallas Petroleum Group is demanding that the court force Sanchez to put the wells back in DPG’s name. SpaceX’s Lone Star argues that the wells have been inactive for years, making them ripe for a new lease.
SpaceX has “a unique ability to utilize the natural gas with different economic incentives”
In a closing statement filed on Monday, Lone Star attorneys said DPG “is not really planning to operate the La Pita Wells,” and its lawsuit to overturn Lone Star’s lease is “part of its plan to extract money from SpaceX.”
“The hope is that [SpaceX] can produce these properties by reentering these inactive wells and restoring the production for use in connection with their rocket facility operations,” an attorney for Lone Star said during a January hearing. In the Monday filing, Lone Star attorneys noted SpaceX and its LLC “have a unique ability to utilize the natural gas with different economic incentives...”
On SpaceX’s careers page, the company is looking for legal counsel who can help “negotiate complex construction and vendor contracts related to space/airport infrastructure development.”