It has been announced that SpaceX purchased two deep-water oil rigs from the offshore drilling contractor, Valaris. The purpose behind the acquisition of the rigs was to transform these oil rigs into launching and landing pads for the space company. The two deep-water oil rigs were bought last year; however, SpaceX is modifying them now into launch pads that are capable of supporting the take-off of the colossal spacecraft, Starship SN9, which the corporation has been working on.
The rigs are situated at the moment in the Port of Brownsville in Boca Chica, Texas, close to Starship’s development facility.
Background of the Purchase
Valaris was considered the world’s largest possessor of off-shore oil rigs globally founded in Dallas, Texas in 1975. However, the multinational corporation filed for bankruptcy back in August after failing in repaying its heavy debt load.
In mid-2020, Lone Star Mineral Development LLC, a subordinate department of SpaceX, purchased the two oil rigs for around US$3.5 million each, as public records present. The two almost identical drilling structures were renamed after the infamous two moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos after their original names “ENSCO/Valaris 8500 and 8501”.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, first introduced his vision of Earth-to-Earth launching and landing pads in an animated short movie back in 2017. The pads were specifically dedicated for Starship and Elon Musk reported that the spacecraft will be capable of carrying passengers on its board, making Earth-to-Earth transportation easier and more convenient. Later on, in June 2020, Elon Musk revealed that the launch pads will also be used as spaceports for travel to Mars tweeting that:
“SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth”- @elonmusk, 10:20 PM · Jun 16, 2020.
The launching site was set around a two miles radius from nearly thirty civilian houses and residential areas with the initial studies showing that it would not affect civilians. Yet, in 2019 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted a study to measure the environmental impacts of the launching program on the civilians.
In turn, the FAA asked residing citizens to exit their homes voluntarily during some engine ignition tests. As a result, SpaceX deduced that around 24 houses were considered to be “too close” to the facility and were obliged to reimburse the residents and seek ways for market acquisition for these properties. According to legal professionals, the timeframe provided by SpaceX to purchase these homes was described as “aggressive”.
Opportunities and Benefits
The pre-mentioned purchases conducted by SpaceX opened new job vacancies, specifically for engineers. The SpaceX Fleet tweeted last year that they are recruiting “Offshore Operations Engineers in Brownsville” stating that the candidates will be working “as part of a team of engineers and technicians to design and build an operational offshore rocket launch facility”.
Likewise, the new launch facilities are estimated to generate around US$ 85million in revenue for the city of Brownsville and create an additional of 500 job opportunities with annual salaries estimated around US$ 51million by the year 2024.
Furthermore, the newly modified pads will facilitate the launch of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft which will introduce revolutionary technology and breakthroughs in the scientific and astronomical field, aiding Musk’s vision in colonizing Mars. The recently purchased launch pads will make the take-off operation for the spacecraft more effective and cost efficient with a budget estimating at US$ 2million per launch.
The new launching pads will also allow for new research centers to conduct studies and experiments. The Brownsville Economic Development Council (BEDC) established a 2.3 acre space research facility next to the launching command center in collaboration with University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The STARGATE institute will provide students and faculty members access to RF technologies that are used in conducting spaceflight operations and spacecraft tracking.
Finally, the new space program will introduce new touristic centers as suggested by the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Advisory Board (CVA). The board will introduce SpaceX related viewing and visiting sights that will be accessible for space enthusiasts.