SpaceX founder and all-around renaissance man Elon Musk told the packed crowd at his keynote at the South By Southwest Interactive (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, that he didn't make the trip to the Lone Star state just for them. Musk said he's also in the state capitol to chat with lawmakers about the possibility of opening a new commercial launch facility in the state.
So far SpaceX, which claims NASA as a key customer, has conducted its launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Musk said that given SpaceX's billion dollar contracts with the federal space agency, it has made sense to launch from those two government facilities, but opening a solely commercial spaceport is a key next step for the company.
Musk said he's been looking for a location that's on American soil and near the equator. Other potential locations for a future SpaceX launch pad include Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Georgia, but he spoke favorably of the chances that Texas would be the chosen site. The company already operates a rocket development and testing site at McGregor, Texas.
He said that some help would likely be needed from the Texas legislature to "get commercial spaceflight into the (law) books here." Any proposed site would also need to pass environmental permitting screens.
A package of incentives from competing states will almost certainly enter into SpaceX's decision, a factor Musk has hinted at in other interviews.
One non-negotiable limitation of SpaceX's siting choice is the requirement that it be located on U.S. soil. That's because a quirk of American law considers just about all space-related technology to be military hardware, which can't be shared across international borders.
Musk said that if Texas is chosen to be the site of its future spaceport, the first launch is still likely a few years off, given the time required for permitting, construction and testing.