SpaceX to expand rocket engine facility in McLennan County

Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

By Camille Cox | Staff Writer

SpaceX’s rocket development facility, located in McGregor, plans to expand its infrastructure, working with the Waco-McLennan County Economic County Corporation to finance and approve the efforts.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, said its mission is to rethink the future and work toward “making humanity multiplanetary,” according to its website. While this may seem abstract, the goals of SpaceX begin just south of Waco, at its rocket development facility. Currently, the facility employs around 500 people at the city of McGregor’s industrial park and will expand, according to Virtual Builders Exchange.

Waco and McLennan County plan to provide $6 million for the expansion project, offering SpaceX community collaboration, benefiting both the project and the city. The Waco City Council voted in September to approve the funding and expansion.

Kris Collins, senior vice president of Greater Waco Chamber of Economic Development, worked closely with SpaceX to fulfill the expansion project.

“SpaceX is a very innovative and unique company, and its location in our greater Waco region has helped elevate the recognition that this is an area that can sustain high growth of high-energy businesses, particularly in immersion technology,” Collins said. “We’ve been able to work with SpaceX over their 15 years in our market to help attract top talent, and we’ve worked closely with them over the years as they’ve had opportunities of growth. We’ve been their partner along the way.”

According to NPR, Musk has named the SpaceX facility in McGregor “Starbase.” In a series of tweets regarding the expansion, Musk said that Starbase would “focus on high volume production of Raptor 2,” which are the rocket engines SpaceX uses to send missions to space.

Collins said that the expansion of the facility will entail additional equipment, infrastructure and high-skilled jobs.

“The business is looking for top talent; they need strong engineering talent and computer scientists,” Collins said. “I would strongly encourage anyone that’s interested in learning more about either interning or working at SpaceX to reach out to the company because they are always looking for talented individuals.”

While the expansion will provide advantages to the community, many see the downsides of such a large facility expanding. Stephanie Bilodeau, a conservation bird biologist with the nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, told NPR that the bright lights and fragility of the environment there could hinder environmental development greatly.

“I wouldn’t want to be nesting near any of this if I were a bird,” Bilodeau told NPR.

Additionally, residents near and far from the facility can hear the rocket engines being tested. Dr. Robin Wallace, professor of musicology, said he can hear the rockets from his home in Woodway, which is about 10 miles from the facility.

“It’s been going on for probably over 10 years now,” Wallace said. “When it started, it was just occasionally that you would hear these tests, and actually in the last month or so, I haven’t heard them much, but last year they were going all the time.”

While the rockets at Starbase do not launch into space, the rocket engines are being tested constantly to improve the technology and make sure they are sufficient.

“What you hear — depending on the test — sometimes is a low rumble, sometimes it is more of a roar or sometimes you can feel the physical shake of it, like there’s a minor earthquake going on,” Wallace said.

While the expansion may bring discomfort and irregularity to the community, Collins said he believes the project will be beneficial for the community in the long run.

“I think as a community, we should have a lot of pride at what’s happening at SpaceX,” Collins said. “They are leading the commercial space industry in the world, and every rocket that goes into space, all those engines come through our community and are tested here, and that’s a great source of pride — to know that we are building the engines that are propelling the next generation of space flight.”