Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas with Pete Foster

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”  – Elon Musk

I finally took some time last week to check off one of the more exciting items on my bucket list. I flew to South Texas to visit Boca Chica, Texas and the new SpaceX rocket base there. This is going to be the SpaceX equivalent of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Just outside of Brownsville, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building a giant new rocket called Starship and a new launch facility named Starbase. The goal is to support Elon’s dream of making the human race interplanetary. The Starship is being designed to support establishing a colony on Mars. I hope you enjoy joining me on this adventure.

I started out for Brownsville very early Thursday morning, but it was a great day for flying. As I was arriving, I circled to take some pictures of Starbase from the air.  It truly is a desolate place – far from anything – a great choice for a rocket launch area.  

Night flight in Pete Foster's Piper Turbo Lance plane

Zero Dark 30 flying to Brownsville/Boca Chica, Texas


In case you don’t follow space activities much, SpaceX is developing a massive, fully reusable rocket to bring down the cost of space launches and economically enable interplanetary travel.  This new rocket is called the Starship. SpaceX’s current vehicle, the highly successfully Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule, just carried 4 space tourists on a 3-day mission to a 365 mile high orbit.  This is higher than anyone else has been other than the Apollo moon astronauts. This flight, called Inspiration4, was purchased by a US billionaire and raised over $200 million for St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital.  The Falcoln 9 has a reusable 1st stage that returns and lands to be reused up to 10 times before being refurbished and used again. The Dragon Capsule, the astronauts space vehicle, is fully computer controlled, seats up to 7, returns to Earth and is also reusable.  Both the rocket and capsule on Inspiration4 had actually been used before this mission. Falcoln 9 rockets are launched from Cape Caneveral, the Kennedy Spaceflight Center and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Falcoln/Dragon vehicle is how American astronauts travel to and from the International Space Station from the US.  But, hold on to your hats, the new rocket being developed at Starbase can hold 100 astronauts!

The Starship is a whole new rocket design.  It is the first system that will have more capability than the Saturn 5/Apollo moon rocket of 60 years ago. In fact, it can carry nearly twice as much payload as the Saturn, over 100 Metric tons.  It is fully reusable, so it is much, much cheaper to operate than the Apollo missions.  The Starship’s second stage, also called the Starship, will hold up to 100 astronauts for a journey to Mars.  Just FYI, the booster or first stage of the system is call the Superheavy.  It can have between 31 to 35 engines depending upon the mission, but will initially have 32 according to Mr. Musk.  The Starship has 8 main engines. The Starship system is designed to have four varients.  The passenger version, the cargo version, a tanker version to refuel other Starships in space, and a moon lander version, which was recently selected to be NASA’s next lunar lander.  One more thing…the Starship was designed to be environmentally friendly, using methane for its fuel, limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  SpaceX is building an engine factory at their facility just outside Waco in McGregor, Texas. Here they will be building the Raptor engines for the new rocket.  They presently test all their Merlin rocket engines used by the Falcon 9 in McGregor.

The second stage of the Starship has flown 7 times in sub-orbital flights and landed twice.  The next test launch should be coming in the next two months.  It will be an orbital flight test of the entire system with the Superheavy booster flying for the first time.  Both the booster and second stage will launch from Starbase in Boca Chica.  The Starship will make orbit, perform a reentry, and attempt a practice landing in the ocean near Hawaii.  The Superheavy booster will also make a practice landing into the Gulf of Mexico a couple of hundred miles east of Boca Chica.   

While SpaceX’s hope is to launch to Mars in 2024, I think realistically they might have a chance for a mission in 2026.  The next window for a Mars launch would be in 2028.  These are exciting times!  I’m enjoying myself as much as I did watching the NASA program to the moon in the 1960’s. 

Stay tuned for Starship progress updates. Until then, enjoy these pics from my trip. To infinity and beyond! – Pete

P.S. If you want to see another post I wrote for Tanya, click HERE to read about the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, which I attended.


Starbase Texas Visit

Starbase Launch Pad from the air

Starbase in the middle of “nowhere” at Boca Chica Beach, south of Padre Island,Texas


Complete picture of SoaceX Starbase site

Starbase – Construction site on left, launch facility on the right


Starbase Launch Facility in Boca Chica, Texas

The Launch Facility – Next stop –>> Mars


Veteran Starships at SpaceX Starbase

Two Starships. The one on the left, Starship SN15, has already flown and landed. I drove up for a close inspection and was only 100 feet from them. They are 160 feet tall, taller than a 10-story building.


High Bay at SpaceX Starbase

The two “High Bay” hangers at the construction site where the components are stacked and assembled. The white tent in the foreground is for manufacturing some components.


Orbital Launch Pad at SpaceX Starbase

The Orbital Launch Pad. The Service Tower is 480 ft. tall – about the same as a 40-story building.


Service Arm Construction at SpaceX Starbase

The Service Tower is being constructed around the Superheavy Booster. While I was watching one of the service arms was hoisted to the top. This component will supply fuel and power to the Starship until lift off.


Chopsticks Landing System at SpaceX Starbase

These arms will be attached to the Service Tower in coming days. They will snatch the Superheavy from the air when it returns to the launch pad. This is a very tricky system and may or may not work, but this is the current plan.


Starship SN20 at SpaceX Starbase

Starship SN20. This will soon be placed up on the Superheavy Booster for the first orbital flight. It will fly in orbit and reenter the atmosphere and execute a practice landing in the Pacific Ocean if all goes according to plan. Notice that the ship is half black colored. These are the heat shield tiles, similar to the space shuttle.

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