SpaceX appears to have purchased a pair of offshore oil platforms from a bankrupt offshore drilling contractor. The launch provider is expected to convert the platforms to serve as floating launch sites for its next-generation super-heavy Starship rocket.
The details behind the secretive SpaceX acquisition were put together by NASASpaceFlight.com reporter Michael Baylor. In a Twitter thread, Baylor explains that the ultra-deepwater semi-submersible Valaris 8500 and Valaris 8501 offshore oil platforms were sold to Lone Star Mineral Development for $3,5 million each in August 2020.
Lone Star Mineral Development was incorporated in Texas just weeks before the purchase of the two platforms. According to the Texas Secretary Of State Business Registration, the principal on record for the newly formed company is Bret Johnsen, who serves as CFO and president of strategic acquisitions group at SpaceX.
Following the purchase, public records show that in September 2020 the names of the two offshore oil platforms were changed to the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.
The purchase of the two offshore oil platforms is likely the first step towards SpaceX building the floating superheavy-class spaceports SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk mentioned on Twitter in June 2020. Musk said that the floating spaceports would be used for flights to the Moon and Mars as well as hypersonic travel around Earth.
According to Google Maps satellite data captured this year, Phobos is currently stationed in the Galveston Channel in Galveston, Texas. As of writing, it’s not clear where its twin Deimos is stationed.
As SpaceX prepares for offshore Starship launches, progress on the upper stage of the rocket is progressing. Following the explosive success of the SN8 prototype late last year, SpaceX is in the process of preparing for the maiden high-altitude flight of the SN9 prototype.
Earlier this month, the SN9 prototype’s three Raptor engines were put through their paces with a series of three static fire tests. This was supposed to clear a path for the prototype’s maiden flight. However, following the completion of the last test, inspections found that two of the three Raptor engines required repairs. As a result, SpaceX is currently swapping out the affected engines and will likely proceed with additional static fire tests before the prototype’s maiden flight.
As flight preparations of the SN9 prototype continue, work on the SN10 and SN11 prototypes are nearing completion. Elements for the SN12 through 17 prototypes and the first Super Heavy booster, which will serve as the rocket’s first stage, are also underway.