SpaceX to expand rocket engine plant in McLennan County

Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

By Camille Cox | Editor-in-chief

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

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, said its mission is to rethink the future and work to “make humanity multi-planetary,” according to its website. While it may seem abstract, SpaceX’s goals begin just south of Waco, at its rocket development facility. Currently, the facility employs around 500 people in the McGregor Town Industrial Park and will expand, according to Virtual Builders Exchange.

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

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

“SpaceX is a very innovative and unique company, and its location in our greater Waco area has helped increase recognition that this is an area that can support strong growth for high-energy companies, 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 for growth. We have been their partner throughout the process.

According to NPR, Musk named McGregor’s SpaceX installation “Starbase.” In a series of tweets regarding the expansion, Musk said Starbase “will focus on high volume production of Raptor 2”, which are the rocket engines SpaceX uses to send missions into space.

Collins said the expansion of the facility will result in additional equipment, infrastructure and highly skilled jobs.

“The company is looking for the best talent; they need strong engineering and computer skills, ”Collins said. “I strongly encourage anyone interested in learning more about the internship or work at SpaceX to contact the company, as they are always on the lookout for talented people.”

While the expansion will provide benefits to the community, many see the downsides of such a large expanding facility. Stephanie Bilodeau, a bird conservation biologist with the nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, told NPR that bright lights and a fragile environment could significantly hamper environmental development.

“I wouldn’t want to nest 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. Musicology professor Dr Robin Wallace said he could hear the rockets from his home in Woodway, about 10 miles from the facility.

“It’s probably been going on for over 10 years now,” Wallace said. “When it started it was just once in a while 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.”

Although Starbase rockets do not launch into space, rocket motors are constantly tested to improve technology and ensure they are sufficient.

“What you hear – depending on the test – is sometimes a low rumble, sometimes it’s more of a roar or sometimes you can feel the physical jerk of it, as if there is a minor earthquake,” Wallace said.

While the expansion may bring discomfort and irregularities to the community, Collins said he believes the project will benefit the community in the long run.

“I think as a community we should be very proud of what’s going on at SpaceX,” Collins said. “They are the head of the commercial space industry in the world, and every rocket that goes into space, all of these engines go through our community and are tested here, and that’s a great source of pride – to know as we build the engines that are powering the next generation of spaceflight.

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