On March 2nd Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he is “creating the city of Starbase, Texas.” While the tweet was memory-holed, it’s worth a bit more attention. Starbase has the potential to become one of the greatest cities of the 21st century.
Starbase is currently known as Boca Chica, a small town in Texas. According to Wikipedia its population peaked at 26 residents. Presumably the immediate goal of Musk is to simplify the launches for SpaceX. The few locals previously had to evacuate prior to every launch, though they’re now been bought out. A judge previously stated SpaceX would have to abide by normal Texas incorporation procedure, so a Disney World like arrangement where SpaceX controls the local government is unlikely for now. Though knowing Musk, he’ll probably figure it out soon enough.
With SpaceX continually lowering the cost of launches, space is transitioning from an exploratory endeavor to a commercial one. The step change in the cost of getting a kilogram into space, from $18,900 in the space shuttle, to $2,350 for the Falcon Heavy, to Musk’s estimated $100 for Starship is opening a new frontier. SpaceX is taking advantage of the price changes with Starlink, disrupting the telecom industry, while new companies like Varda are aiming to industrialize space.
Starbase, therefore, is going to be the central hub to a new economic frontier. Humans have always settled near transportation hubs. Historically this has been ports. Access to a port meant access to trade, ideas, and wealth creation. As sailing technology changed, human settlements changed.
The Phoenicians and ancient Greeks were the most advanced civilizations of their time, dominating the Mediterranean. Millenia later, new technology led to the success of nations on the Atlantic, first Portugal and Spain, then the Netherlands, with Britain later becoming the ruler of the seas. The successful exploration led to an explosion of wealth and creativity in the respective countries and cities.
This happened again with rail and flight. Rail allowed Chicago to surpass its Mississippi basin rivals like St. Louis, giving it better connectivity to the hinterland. Flight empowered some cities to become more central, while others fell behind.
There is little that can accelerate the development of a region faster than new transportation technology. Starbase is setting itself up as the center of the biggest change in transportation technology since open water ships. As space industries emerge, they will naturally agglomerate around Starbase. This will bring talent, investment, jobs, and everything necessary for a superstar city.