SpaceX has abandoned efforts to convert two oil rigs into launch platforms for its Starship spacecraft, but the company still believes marine launch platforms will be part of its long-term plans.
In 2020, SpaceX acquired two oil rigs, which it later named Phobos and Deimos after the two moons of Mars. The company planned to convert the rigs into marine launch platforms to be used for Starships.
“SpaceX is building superheavy floating spaceports for Mars, the Moon and hypersonic trips around Earth,” — wrote on Twitter SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in June 2020, shortly after a job posting for “Marine Operations Engineers” was posted on SpaceX’s website.
Phobos has been in port in Pascagoula, Mississippi since January 2021, and Deimos arrived there in March 2022. Both vessels were to be converted as launch platforms, but there was no discernible activity on either vessel for months.
Recent shipping manifests released by the port show that both are due to leave the port next month. Deimos is due to depart on February 20, and Phobos on March 12. Destinations are not indicated in the manifests.
However, SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell told reporters after a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference on February 8 that the company sold the installations after concluding they were not suitable for use as launch platforms.
“We bought them. We sold them. They were not the right platform,” she said. She did not disclose when SpaceX sold the installations or to whom.
Shotwell said the company needs to start launching Starship first and better understand the machine before building sea-based launch platforms. “We really need to drive this vehicle to understand it, to get to know this car, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to run it.”
She said she expects offshore platforms will eventually play a role in supporting the extremely high launch rate. “We designed Starship to be as similar to aircraft operations as possible,” she said during a presentation at the conference. “We want to be talking about dozens of launches a day, if not hundreds of launches a day.”
In the presentation, she did not specify where these launches will take place. Starship’s current launch site at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, is limited by the number of orbital launches it can accept by FAA environmental review and state regulations regarding access to a nearby beach. The company is building another Starship launch pad at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, but it’s unclear how many launches that pad, as well as the increasingly active East Ridge, can handle.
Later, she told reporters, “We’re going to have a lot of sites” to maintain such a high launch rate. “I think we’re going to have a lot of sea-based platforms as well. We have to see how this ship goes.”