SpaceX plans to use two deepwater oil rigs as offshore floating spaceports that the company will likely use for the Starship rockets it is developing.
CNBC’s Michael Sheetz reports, citing public documents, that now-bankrupt offshore rig operator Valaris sold two rigs, 8500 and 8501, for $3.5 million each. The deal was completed in July last year, and Valaris—the world’s largest offshore drilling rig operator—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection soon after.
The buyer of the rigs, according to the CNBC report, was a limited liability company named Lone Star Mineral Development, registered in the name of the chief financial officer of SpaceX, Bret Johnsen.
Now, the rigs have been renamed Deimos and Phobos, possibly after two Mars moons, and have been relocated to the Port of Brownsville in Texas, close to where SpaceX is building its Starship rockets.
TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington notes that SpaceX has so far been testing its Starship prototypes on land, at a site in Boca Chica, but recalls that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said the company had plans to build floating launch sites in the Gulf of Mexico.
Starship is a top priority for SpaceX. The enormous spacecraft is planned to transport cargo and up to 100 passengers on missions to the Moon and Mars.
Elon Musk tweeted in June 2020 that SpaceX was “building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth.” The tweet came in response to another one, which said SpaceX was hiring for “a team of engineers and technicians to design and build an operational offshore rocket launch facility.”
An offshore launch site is the one that makes the most sense, according to reports. The Starship craft is very large, and it has a large blast danger area, NASA Space Flight’s Thomas Burghardt noted in a report on the oil rig news. This, coupled with noise concerns, he explained, would make an onshore launch site a lousy choice, hence the decision to launch toe spacecraft from an offshore location.