McGregor leaders thankful for SpaceX, marking 10th birthday

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has been tested at their McGregor facility, will likely take flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — better known as SpaceX — has conducted three first-stage tests of a Falcon 9 rocket in the past two weeks, firing all nine of the rocket’s Merlin 1C engines.

The roar has been heard as far as Waco and Robinson, about 20 miles away.

The engines may look like huge candles, a fitting coincidence, as SpaceX celebrates its 10th year in existence this week.

Additional cause for celebration came Thursday when NASA announced a provisional April 30 date for the much-delayed launch of another Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will carry the company’s Dragon cargo capsule on a test flight to the International Space Station.

That Falcon 9, previously tested at the McGregor site, is already at the Florida launch complex.

The launch date should be finalized at a flight readiness review meeting April 16, according to a post on a NASA Twitter account.

The Falcon 9 recently making noise in Central Texas is next in line to tote a Dragon to the ISS, SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said Thursday.

The current Dragon capsules carry only cargo, but SpaceX is planning a version that can carry people to the space station and beyond.

SpaceX was founded March 14, 2002, by Elon Musk, who became a billionaire when he sold his online payments company, PayPal, to eBay.

He launched SpaceX to find ways to bring down the massive costs of space travel.

In December of that year, SpaceX signed a lease with the city of McGregor to take over the rocket test site vacated by Beal Aerospace, a failed Texas company that had sought to build a heavy-lift rocket.

SpaceX moved into the McGregor site early in 2003.

The company signed a new lease with the city of McGregor a year ago to expand the test site to about 600 acres, and the city followed up in November with a development deal, rebating property taxes for every $15 million the company adds to the property’s tax valuation, up to $60 million.

McGregor City Manager Kevin Evans said SpaceX currently employs about 150 people at the McGregor site — a younger-than-average employee base making higher-than-average wages — with more jobs coming as the company expands.

“We’re proud to have them here,” Evans said. “We’ve got quite a few good industries, and SpaceX is certainly at the top of that list.”

The job surge is driven by SpaceX’s accelerating Falcon 9 launch schedule, ramping up from the current one or two launches annually to 10 to 12 a year.

Those include contracts the company announced this week to launch satellites for Mexican and Asian companies.

In development is the Falcon Heavy, a 27-engine behemoth able to carry larger payloads into higher orbits — and potentially out of Earth’s orbit altogether.

A larger test stand is under construction at the McGregor site to accommodate the Falcon Heavy. Musk said during the company’s open house in November that the new stand will use advanced sound-suppression techniques to limit neighbor- rattling to the levels of the nine-engine tests.

SpaceX also is in talks with NASA to use Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A — the liftoff site for Apollo and space shuttle flights — for some of its Falcon Heavy missions.

McGregor’s Evans is among those wishing the company many more years of success.

“Happy birthday, SpaceX,” he said. “We love you.”


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