News25 Investigates


Whole Lotta Shakin Goin' On:

The noise problems at SpaceX
SpaceX Structural series.jpg
Posted at 4:06 PM, Mar 08, 2022

MCGREGOR, TX — Increased rocket testing at SpaceX has continued for at least 3 or 4 months now.

That's got some of it's neighbors wondering if it will ever end.

It has others wondering if the noise and shaking has begun to damage their homes.

Most of us might consider SpaceX, a dull roar... a vibration in the background, a momentary interruption.

Now, consider what it's like to live next door to the place, where about three months ago amid increased pressure to ready the company's new "Raptor" engine , an occasional interruption became an almost nightly occurence.

Calvin Witt says, to understand it.... you need to feel it.

"It shakes everything. I mean, my ceiling fans are sittin' there shiverin', my windows are shaking and blowing in and out. Pictures are rattling on the walls," he said.

Perhaps you've seem the video of shaking dishes, the rattling doors, it comes without notice.... and sometimes later at night than many people expect.

While some call SpaceX and it's noise a source of pride, a sacrifice they make to support Texas and the new race for space... others have begun to worry about their biggest investment and their greatest need.

They've begun to worry about what all the roaring and shaking in the air, has done to their homes.

Why the worry? Well it turns out, research shows, sound waves, which spaceX produces in abundance, are identical to the waves made by earthquakes...That's right... I said earthquakes.... but can sound waves do identical damage?

Witt says, his home shows signs of the rocket testing.

"Do I have any structural damage? We've got now here, recently have some cracks in our ceiling, a couple of cracks going down our wall. They've gotten to be more visible as these tests have gotten harder." "Do I worry it's shaking my house apart?"

Texas A&M professor Ben Duan says, despite their similarities sound waves may not be the problem here.

"Seismic waves include one type of wave which is similar or same as sound waves, but it's not the type that does much damage," he explained.

As reported in my month-long series "Texas and the New Race for Space", the troubles began in November of last year with the departure of three key SpaceX executives, followed by Founder Elon Musk calling the raptor program a "disaster" that threatened the company's existence.

We again asked SpaceX almost four days ago, about what, if anything they have done to mitigate the noise from the testing. We're still waiting to hear back.

The urgency of the Raptor program brought many more nights of rocket testing to people who live around the testing ground that borders both McLennan and Coryell Counties.

Some, like Witt and even McGregor Mayor Jim Herring, say they want to support SpaceX, but Space X needs to remember it has neighbors.

"I mean I understand everybody has a job to do. You want to test and make sure whatever they're doing for space, NASA whatever the case is, It just gets a little much sometimes." said Witt.

And since the stepped-up testing has continued, it's brought new worries, that over the long term, the noise coming from SpaceX may carry with it hidden dangers.

When testing started becoming more frequent, people started noticing damage to their homes.

Amanda Geltemeyer tells anyone who'll listen, her house is shaking apart.

A look at the outside shows siding that's fallen off, and almost all the windows are broken.

She says they've stopped trying to fix the house, because it just happens again and again.

Amanda ahd her family lived in this little piece of McLennan County, just outside McGregor, long before SpaceX moved in.

They live in second-closest house to the rocket engine test stands...just over a mile an a half.

At first they were excited about the space program. but when the noise started, and came with maddening regularity it became annoying. Last Fall the family says it got unbearable, and their home shows it.

They say outside damage started coming inside with the increased, and longer testing, they pointed out multiple problems that came with the bigger, louder, longer tests. Cracks in the walls that let in daylight, light fixtures detaching from the ceiling and where the walls meet that ceiling, you'll find a gap almost big enough to stick a finger in.

"It gets later, and more frequent, it's like they're blowing up at times," Said Jean Courtney, Amanda's Mother.

One man shot video of his attic shaking during one of the tests. He lives even further out, across Highway 84 toward Crawford. He says the rocket engine testing has begin shaking his house apart too,.

For years, different companies have used this property where SpaceX tests its rockets, for all kinds of explosives, fuel, and yes, rocket testing. In fact, parts of the powerful Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon underwent some testing here... but now the space program has its sights set on Mars, and it needs a more powerful rocket to do that... That puts new pressure on this facility, at a time when the population along the highway 84 corridor has begun to boom as loud as the SpaceX rockets.

Since the stepped up testing of the raptor rocket engines began, the family says the damage got worse. take a look at the home's foundation, and you'll see it more than an inch out of alignment.

You might think it looks like earthquake damage. It makes sense, right? powerful rumbling just like the earth makes... but these waves travel through the air.

It turns out sound waves and seismic waves are identical... but Seismologist Dr. Ben Duan says only to certain earthquake waves.

"Seismic waves include one type of wave which is similar or same as sound waves, but it's not the type that does much damage." said the Texas A&M professor.

Dr. Duan points out the similarity comes iin so called earthquake "P waves" or the "early warning" waves.

"this here is the p wave, it's just like the sound, it does no damage.... but this this is the S wave this is what moves through the rock and causes all the damage." he explained.

Another seismologist I talked to, with the University of Memphis Cener for Earthquake Research says, a sonic booms, even a heavy truck driving by, can have the same effect.... but they don't last as long.

Amanda remains convinced the rocket testing at SpaceX caused the damage to her home. She says it's the only thing that could.

While others may get excited about rockets to Mars, Amanda says, she's over it.

"I could care less if they go to Mars honestly, they need to fix people's property it's falling apart, I could give a damn less if they go to mars." she said angerly.

She wants her damage fixed, to end her family's financial drain. She'd like the testing to stop, though she realizes that's impractical.

What she wants most is for SpaceX to be a good neighbor.

"What would make this right for me? is there anything they could do? fix the damages. That's what would make it right that's not fair to us." she said.

Texans have always made sacrifices.... but Amanda says, this one crosses a line. We may have a goal to reach for the stars, she says, but she adds, it shouldn't cost us everything we have back here on the ground,