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SpaceX leases bigger space at LA port for processing Falcon 9 boosters after launch

Capitalism in space: According to the mayor of Los Angeles, SpaceX has signed a new lease for more space at the city’s port, taking over the facilities no longer used by Sea Launch’s floating launch platform that is now in Russia.

News of the port lease broke on April 26th with a tweet from the mayor of Long Beach, California after the Port of Long Beach (POLB) Commission voted to approve SpaceX’s 24-month sublease with an effective start date of May 1st, 2021. From 2014 to 2020, a massive floating rocket launch complex and associated service ships once used by SeaLaunch called POLB’s Pier 16 home while mothballed and the company left behind a decent amount of infrastructure when it vacated the facility last year.

That includes a ~5600 square meter (~65,000 sq ft) warehouse and office space formerly used to process SeaLaunch payloads and Ukrainian Zenit rockets, as well as a pier and dock space generally optimized for loading and unloading large rockets from rocket transport ships. In other words, Pier 16 is a perfect fit for SpaceX’s needs.

SpaceX has twice before signed similar leases and then canceled them. Now it appears the deal is more firm, as the company appears to be gearing up for regular Starlink satellite launches from Vandenberg, requiring a bigger need in LA for processing Falcon 9 first stage boosters after launch.

I wonder too if this deal might be in connection with Starship and the two used floating oil rigs that SpaceX now owns and is refitting as Superheavy/Starship launch and landing pads. This LA facility would be ideal for these ocean platforms before and after launch.


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  • Gary

    Musk seems to know what he’s doing, but making deals with California would seem almost as risky as what he’s doing in China with Tesla. Heavy handed and/or totalitarian governments will crush you given half a chance. I’m extremely nervous that the recent pressure on Tesla in China is an attempt to gain leverage for extracting SpaceX technology from Musk.

  • wayne

    ‘California’ doesn’t *really* control the port.

    “Trump Adm forces China to sell the Port of Long Beach”

    (and going way tangential– the chinese also control AMC, they own like’ 60% of ALL movie theater seats in North America)

  • Jeff Wright

    Musk should have gone to Mobile. I guess he offered Gavin funds so he can have free run of the place. He acted like an anti-Trumper just to stay on the Left Coast’s good side-so as to keep infrastructure access.

  • Jeff Wright wrote, “Musk should have gone to Mobile.”

    You need to read the post before you comment. This is to increase the processing of returning boosters launched from Vandenberg and landing in the Pacific. Mobile, Alabama, is useless for that task. Newsome also had nothing to do with this deal, as it was negotiated between the Port and SpaceX. The state government was not involved.

  • Jeff Wright

    I can just see it swamped with protestors though-that’s my concern

  • Star Bird

    I just wish they would send al Liberal Democrats into space and leave them there

  • Dick Eagleson

    This move likely indicates the next completed drone ship will be going to Vandy – probably quite soon as the Vandy-based part of the Starlink launch campaign is supposed to kick off in July. F9 boosters launched from Vandy would be caught by the drone ship well off the coast of Baja California, then brought back to this new place in the Port of Long Beach for post-flight processing.

    I suspect all the post-flight inspection and refurb will take place at this newly-acquired facility, then boosters will be trucked the relatively short distance from Long Beach harbor back up to Vandy. That would eliminate any need to use the Hawthorne factory for inspection and refurb. Given the high required cadence of F9 2nd stage construction, the inspection and refurb of recently flown boosters really needs to happen elsewhere.

    This facility is too small to ever likely have any role anent Starship. The two-year lease term suggests it’s not a long-term SpaceX investment anyway. If Starship is operational for Starlink deployment within two years, SpaceX may not even renew the lease, though if it wants to, it should encounter no difficulty in doing so.

    It’s highly probable SpaceX will have some sort of Starship operation off the CA coast in the next few years, but I think any repurposed oil rigs involved will probably come from somewhere other than the Gulf of Mexico. Oil rigs are far too wide to get through the Panama Canal and sending them around the Horn of South America would be a lengthy and potentially hazardous process given the foul weather on such a route during a good part of any given year. Still, never say never, I suppose. There is certainly no shortage of supply of idled rigs in the Gulf and, based on the pittance SpaceX paid for its first two, the company could easily afford an occasional loss-in-transit.

    Jeff, I wouldn’t worry overmuch about protests at the new site. I visited the place once myself a few years back while the SeaLaunch platform and command ship were still in residence. There isn’t much room there for demonstrators and, as the site is a pier, the approach by land is narrow and easily blocked. Demonstrators on watercraft would be a different matter, but the Department of Homeland Security has been operating some robot Zodiac-type boats with machine guns mounted on them in U.S. ports for several years. I doubt one could scare up many protestors even in the L.A. area willing to get into a pissing contest with armed aquatic drones.

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