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Elon Musk Aims to Use Texas Natural Gas for his Starships

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Credit: Flickr / Steven Straiton / CC BY 2.0

The SpaceX site in Texas founded by billionaire Elon Musk will be supplied by at least five nearby gas wells, along with two gas-fired power plants, according to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) document.

Musk more popularly known for the most well-known clean energy company SpaceX is perhaps going to drill for natural gas to power Starship, the new spacecraft and rocket designed to carry humans to the moon, Mars, and beyond. In this context, Musk’s SpaceX aims to use a site in South Texas to launch rockets. The company also intends to drill gas wells to make its own fuel and electricity, according to an FAA document.

Musk has stated he ultimately aims to extract carbon from the atmosphere to produce fuel, which is a more cost-effective method of doing so and hasn’t been developed yet. Furthermore, the billionaire is donating $100 million toward a prize for the “best carbon capture technology.”

SpaceX originally built the coastal site for its Falcon Heavy rockets and Falcon 9, which are used to deploy satellites. However, it never used it for that purpose. The company is now looking out for permission to use it as a launch site for spacecraft to carry people and cargo to the Mars and moon.

Musk has been a long-time fan of the strategy, vertical integration, one potential motivation for SpaceX’s production of gas. When drilling for gas, SpaceX would avoid paying any third party to produce it and pipe it to the launch site.

SpaceX launched a subsidiary named Lone Star Mineral Development in June last. The company bought mineral rights in the area, and an 806-acre lease that was originally drilled by Houston-based oil company Sanchez Energy. Moreover, geology is just one of the hurdles for SpaceX’s gas production plans. The company also faces legal challenges for a parcel of land that makes up a small corner of the drilling lease.

A coalition of a dozen environmental groups has raised the alarm over SpaceX’s expansion plans. According to the coalition, the rocket launch site has gone far beyond the scope of its original permit. Moreover, the company’s plans threaten an environmentally sensitive wildlife corridor along the U.S.-Mexico border. Because of changes to SpaceX’s plans for the Texas site, the coalition wants the FAA to use a more stringent and transparent process to review its proposals.

Musk could use drilling to gain experience in developing carbon dioxide storage wells. SpaceX will probably have to use carbon capture on Mars to make fuels for the trip back home, which makes it critical to get the technology right.

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