Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX to build new ground stations in Texas

SpaceX Boca Chica launch site SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

An artist’s rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site. Photo Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — In addition to building a commercial spaceport for orbital launches along Boca Chica Beach in south Texas, SpaceX is also adding a couple of NASA-heritage ground tracking antennas to track the Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX Boca Chica Village in Texas. Photo Credit Juan Diego Delagarza / SpaceFlight Insider

Boca Chica, Texas. Photo Credit: Juan Diego Delagarza / SpaceFlight Insider

A local Texas television station reported that the antennas will be shipped to SpaceX’s ground tracking facility from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, adding to the company’s increasingly sophisticated facilities for conducting commercial space launches and spacecraft operations in Texas.

The $100 million, 49-acre Boca Chica property, located adjacent to Boca Chica State Park, has been a work in progress since SpaceX first discussed their plans with the Texas state government in 2011. Groundbreaking on the facility began in 2014. With the dirt continuing to be moved, the Brownsville Herald reports that company plans to conduct its first launch in September 2018.

The Texas operation represents yet another piece of Elon Musk’s process of creating a commercial version of NASA’s space operations, including vehicle design and assembly, testing, mission control, launch operations and now ground tracking.

Falcon 9 rockets launching out of Boca Chica would fly commercial satellites only. SpaceX will continue to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) from Florida.

Since June of 2010, SpaceX has launched its Falcon 9 rocket some 27 times – all but two of those have been from the Cape. The rocket has only encountered a single failure, the 2015 flight of the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. The Hawthorne, California-based company has greatly increased its operations since that time.

SpaceX also has a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base located in California. Space Launch Complex 4E (East) has been used twice so far. The NewSpace company is hoping to conduct the first flight of its new “Falcon Heavy” rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A later this year. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will have as many as four launch sites spread out across the U.S.

SpaceX Boca Chica Village in Texas. Photo Credit Juan Diego Delagarza / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Juan Diego Delagarza / SpaceFlight Insider


Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

Why does it need the new tracking stations? For Dragon??? What is SpaceX using now to track Dragon?

The need it for the Red Dragon Mars Mission and Future deep space launches. Nasa gave it to SpaceX as part of there agreement to work together with the Red Dragon Mission.

These are launch tracking radars. Nothing to do with Red Dragon as that will launch on a Falcon Heavy from the cape. Currently they use the Eastern Range radars for the cape and the Western range radars for launches from Vandenberg. This will be a private system for launches from Texas out over the Gulf of Mexico.

Andrew Goetsch

When they launch heavies, they’ll need to track all three boosters at once, since they’ll be returning home separately.

“SpaceX will have as many as four launch sites spread out across the U.S.” Where will the 4th one be located? 1-Vandenberg, 2-KSC, 3-Boca Chica, 4-?. Or is that to be decided in the future?


1. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40
2. Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (East)
3. Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A
4. Boca Chica

the Cape has 2 of our sites. site 39A for the Heavy and site 40 for all others.

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Will the first stage rockets now land at the cape when they are launched from Boca Chica?

Probably not as that would take considerably more fuel to change direction and location. Seems like I read they have a test site in McGregger, TX and have done some short tests of VTOL/VTVL already. Or they may use the barge or make a pad there (if they dont have one already).

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