SpaceX Wants to Build Floating Spaceports for Daily Starship Launches

6 mins read

The coronavirus pandemic stopped a variety of issues, however it hasn’t accomplished a lot to decelerate SpaceX and Elon Musk. The firm despatched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station final month within the first-ever commercially-operated crewed mission, and it’s scheduled to launch its tenth group of Starlink satellites subsequent week and a GPS satellite tv for pc for the US navy later this month.

As if all that weren’t sufficient, SpaceX can be beginning to take motion on plans to construct floating launchpads for journey to the moon, Mars, and round Earth. Musk tweeted earlier this week concerning the firm’s spaceport plans and a corresponding job posting for offshore operations engineers.

Starship Stats

The offshore platforms would serve primarily to launch the corporate’s huge Starship rockets, that are being constructed and examined in Brownsville, a small metropolis in southern Texas close to the border with Mexico. The first three Starship prototypes had been destroyed throughout testing, and most lately, the fourth prototype exploded during an engine test late final month.

Not to be deterred, Musk is forging forward on the floating launchpads regardless of these setbacks; he did say last year that Starship would probably undergo at the least 20 design iterations earlier than being prepared to launch.

At 394 ft tall by 30 ft extensive, the rocket outsizes all these beforehand utilized in spaceflight, together with the Saturn V utilized in NASA’s Apollo program. But essentially the most spectacular function of the Starship, which consists of a 160-foot spacecraft plus a 230-foot booster, is that it’s being designed to be totally reusable. Last November Musk estimated Starship launches could cost as little as $2 million, which is about 1 percent of what NASA launch prices common.

Given that there’s nonetheless a lot work to be accomplished earlier than a launch really occurs, that estimate may find yourself being wildly inaccurate; however even when it’s multiplied by an element of 10, the price will nonetheless be dramatically low in contrast to its predecessors.

Why Water?

So why the necessity to launch from a platform floating on water as a substitute of utilizing good outdated stable land?

SpaceX hasn’t given particulars about its motivation for this seemingly complicated and costly endeavor, aside from a reply tweet wherein Musk mentioned the launches and landings had to be “far enough away so as not to bother heavily populated areas.” The firm’s plan to ultimately perform up to three launches and landings per day would definitely necessitate placing some severe distance between the launch web site and other people; most of us may solely deal with about one sonic boom a month, if that.

A large no-fly zone and street closures go into impact on launch days. And if Starships do ultimately shuttle individuals round Earth or past each day, the takeoff and touchdown factors would wish to be conveniently positioned; going a number of miles offshore is probably going higher on this regard than discovering an enormous empty swathe of land in, say, New Mexico or Nevada.

Rather than constructing the launchpads from scratch, it’s possible SpaceX would refurbish present oil rigs; the larger rigs are concerning the dimension of two soccer fields, and there are plenty of them within the Gulf of Mexico, although solely a pair very close to Brownsville. Given the ailing state of the oil business, particularly after the pandemic, it’s probably there will probably be rigs to be had for low-cost.

Wild, But Not That Much

One excellent query is what kind of influence the launch pads would have on marine life, particularly if one thing had been to go fallacious. This received’t be the primary time a rocket takes off from or lands offshore, although—SpaceX has landed multiple Falcon 9 on a barge within the Atlantic, and a Boeing-founded firm known as Sea Launch has a floating launchpad from which it efficiently launched over 30 boosters carrying communications satellites. That platform, known as Odyssey, is a modified oil rig, however hasn’t seen a launch since 2014 and was relocated from Long Beach, California to Russia’s japanese seaboard earlier this 12 months.

It’s onerous to say what kind of wild, futuristic visions Musk and SpaceX might deliver to fruition subsequent. But thought of alongside concepts like hyperloop transportation, implanting electrodes within the human brain, a million-mile car battery, world satellite-enabled internet, or “nuking” Mars—launching rockets from a platform within the ocean really doesn’t sound all that loopy.

Image Credit: SpaceX

By Vanessa Bates Ramirez

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.