SpaceX announces it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in Los Angeles


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Capitalism in space: SpaceX has confirmed that it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in the facility it has leased in the port of Los Angeles.

Looking at the string of stories I have just posted on Behind the Black, all describing the space plans of Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, China, and the UAE, all aimed at taking off in the early 2020s, it seems the next decade will be a wild ride for space geeks.

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10 comments

  • Mordineus

    Can you tell me what influenced them to build this in Los Angeles when both of their launch sites (Cape Canaveral, FL & Boca Chica, TX) are on the other side of the Panama Canal?

  • Mordineus: You ask a very very good question. One reason may simply be that, because of California’s fascist politics, land values have dropped, and Musk could get a good deal. As long as the facility is on the ocean they can more easily ship the spacecraft anywhere by water.

    It could also be that because SpaceX is based in California, the company feels compelled to brown-nose California politicians or risk more trouble from them. Putting the facility in LA gives the company clout with these power-hungry politicians.

  • David

    From discussion I’ve seen elsewhere, it has mostly to do with the employee base in Torrance that would be hard to move or duplicate.

  • Edward

    David wrote: “From discussion I’ve seen elsewhere, it has mostly to do with the employee base in Torrance that would be hard to move or duplicate.

    Maybe, but the Florida Space Coast lost a lot of jobs with the loss of the Space Shuttle. Those people would be a good fit for building rockets and satellites, as other companies determined when they chose to build manufacturing facilities there. There are experienced and talented people working at facilities along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, too. However, the Los Angeles/Mojave region has been a locus of aerospace companies for about a century, so there is plenty of experience and talent there, too. There are plenty of places from which to choose in order to get a good employee base.

    So, what does it cost to move a rocket from Los Angeles (assembly) to McGregor, Texas (test) to Kennedy/Vandenberg/Boca Chica (launch)? My point being that any SpaceX rocket will have to move around anyway, so assembly plant location may not be driven by a need to reduce transportation; other factors can easily overwhelm the transportation factor.

  • Matt in AZ

    SpaceX does have a launch site at Vandenberg as well, though I doubt they would want to jump through all of the government hurdles to build and operate facilities for the BFR there. Also, it’s not an ideal site for most LEO orbits. Recalling some of their concept imagery, they might be looking at ocean-based platforms for launching.

    Would launches to the moon or beyond from a more polar direction be particularly detrimental?

  • Edward

    Matt in AZ asked: “Would launches to the moon or beyond from a more polar direction be particularly detrimental?

    You would likely lose the 8 km per second velocity advantage that you get by launching into the plane of the destination.

  • Localfluff

    @Edward, the rotational speed of Earth is 420 meters per second at the equator (about 350 m/s in California). That’s the small bonus that a polar launch looses. It requires 10 km/s to reach orbit, so it is a 3½% loss of velocity (and a larger loss in payload/fuel).

    Insight will be launched to Mars from Vandenberg. They have margins for the polar launch and prefer it because it is less busy than Florida, less risk of delays.

  • wayne

    Ref: InSight…

    “InSight: Digging Deep into Mars”
    JPL news briefing, March 29, 2018
    https://youtu.be/y2Hh3FeRrMU
    (1:00:49)

  • Tom Billings

    Local said:

    ” It requires 10 km/s to reach orbit, so it is a 3½% loss of velocity (and a larger loss in payload/fuel).”

    To give an idea how *much* loss in payload just to LEO, a TitanIII could put about 14,000 kilos in polar orbit, but could have launched straight East from KSC and put about 20,000 kilos into lower inclination orbits.

  • Edward

    Localfluff wrote: “the rotational speed of Earth is 420 meters per second at the equator

    But the Moon orbits the Earth at about 1 km per second, so somehow you have to gain that much velocity. Plus, in changing orbital planes from an Earth polar to the lunar orbit plane will take about twice the speed that the spacecraft is travelling (twice the sine of the angle between the planes), so that means 2 km per second of delta V.

    Being in the correct orbital plane at the time of orbital transfer (when entering Earth orbit) can be very important, otherwise you have to change planes at a cost of delta V, fuel, and payload weight.

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