SpaceX may have purchased 2 oil rigs off the coast of Texas that could be turned into 'floating' Starship launchpads

  • SpaceX appears to have acquired two oil rigs that it may transform into launch platforms for its forthcoming Starship rocket system, NASASpaceflight reported. 
  • The floating "spaceports" would add to SpaceX's operations in Boca Chica, Texas, which are under a new environmental review.
  • Launching rockets from the water should be less disruptive for nearby residents. 
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You may know Deimos and Phobos as the names of Mars' moons. But now they're also the newly christened names of two oil rigs off the Texas coast. These rigs will likely be transformed into launchpads for SpaceX Starship rockets, NASASpaceflight reported on Tuesday. 

In December 2020, Insider reported that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had moved from California to Texas, an increasingly common trajectory for tech CEOs looking to save on state income taxes.

Since then, Thomas Burghardt and Michael Baylor of NASASpaceflight identified public records showing the August 2020 sale of two oil rigs off the Texas coast from now-bankrupt oil company Valaris. Both rigs sold for $3.5 million, Baylor's records requests show. 

NASASpaceflight identified the buyer as Lone Star Mineral Development LLC, which shares executive Bret Johnson with SpaceX. The LLC was incorporated in June of 2020. While SpaceX has yet to confirm it's involved in the purchase of the oil rigs, it wouldn't be a surprise.

Further fueling that idea is a tweet identified by Baylor that Musk sent in June 2020, a week before the LLC's incorporation, in which the CEO alluded to building launch 'floating' spaceport platforms on the ocean. 

Back on land, the SpaceX site in Boca Chica previously hosted prototype launches for the company. The first launch of the Starship prototype, which the company hopes will eventually lead to the first commercial spaceflight to Mars, occurred in December 2020. The rocket exploded, Insider reported, but the company still considered the test successful. 

SN9, a new iteration of the prototype, will likely be launched this week, weather permitting. The proposed SN9 launch will be beachside, not on the Phobos and Deimos rigs.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it purchased the oil rigs or any plans for them.

Floating launchpads would offer some distinct advantages over land-based launching sites, such as a decreased risk for those living nearby and less noise.

The future of these potential rigs-turned-launchpads and SpaceX's Texas operations more broadly is still an open question. In December 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration released a call for public input about the SpaceX launch site in Boca Chica.

Musk has said that he hopes SpaceX will begin sending passenger flights to Mars by 2026. 

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