Image of Phobos and Deimos's Sister Ship

SpaceX Selling Future Starship Launch Platforms

SpaceX has decided to sell their two future off shore launch platforms to focus on getting the launch system online and reliable for transportation of crew and cargo from land based launch sites at Starbase and KSC.

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Ashe S.

Ashe S.

Tue Feb 14 2023Written by Ashe S.

SpaceX has decided to sell their two future off shore launch platforms to focus on getting the launch system online and reliable for transportation of crew and cargo from land based launch sites at Starbase and KSC.

Phobos and Deimos: SpaceX’s Path to Mars

Image of the Sister Ship to Phobos and Deimos

Named after the twin moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos are two oil rigs that SpaceX sought to use to drastically expand Starship launch operations.

SpaceX already has an extensive operational fleet for their Falcon and Dragon vehicles, with a variety of boats, helicopters, and personnel specializing in aquatic recovery. SpaceX uses these teams to assist in catching Falcon 9 boosters on their three operation floating landing pads, faring recovery, and Cargo & Crew Dragon landing operations. 

However, the operational dreams Phobos and Deimos would have blown these endeavours out of the water. The oil rigs would be outfitted with fuel tanks, launch pad, landing pad, and a launch support tower. This would have allowed these oil rigs to act as a fully fleshed out launch site able to be moved across the ocean to allow Starship to access unique and specific orbital inclinations that fixed launch sites do not have the liberty of using. These rigs would have the ability to integrate payloads, fully fuel, launch, and recover all aspects of the Starship-Super Heavy launch system flawlessly, and would take a feat of engineering to become a major aspect of the SpaceX fleet.

What This Means

The process of turning these oil rigs into floating launch platforms was going to be a lengthy, costly, and challenging task for SpaceX to tackle. The Starship program is still in its infancy, and we are just now beginning to see its maiden flight on the Horizon at Starbase, TX. It would take many years to strip, retrofit, test, and qualify the launch rigs to become operational, and yet the niche they fit would still not be beneficial to SpaceX’s ambitions for the Starship program. 

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX COO, announced that the company sold both oil rigs as they no longer fit their desire for launch capabilities at this time, stating "they were not the right platform". Both oil rigs were sold to a Liberian refurbishment company that will retrofit and repair both oil rigs.

Where else will Starship fly?

      Starship still has a lot of room for growth into the future without the use of Phobos and Deimos, with more launch pads appearing and beginning construction across the United States. As of today, SpaceX is nearly finished with the construction of the first orbital launch pad in Starbase, and will see its first orbital flight attempt within the coming months. Florida has also been seeing a lot of activity with its Starship program, with infrastructure being quickly erected around the Historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, previously flying the Saturn V, Space Shuttle, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy. The addition of the Starship launch site on 39A makes the site the second most developed starship pad in the States. Currently, two other sites are being eyed up by SpaceX, Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 49 and expanding it’s starbase site to include a second orbital launch pad. While Pad 49 remains as undeveloped land, SpaceX has already begun construction of a second orbital launch tower at its Florida construction site, “Hangar X”, and is rumored to be the beginning infrastructure for the second Florida pad.

What is Starship?

Starship undergoing Wet Dress Rehearsal

Starship is one of the most ambitious and game-changing rockets developed over the past five years, and has the capacity to revolutionize space access if it can reach its full potential. Developed as a fully reusable, cheap, and massive rocket, SpaceX’s Starship is able to loft 150 tons of payload anywhere in the solar system, something that has never been seen before in the history of spaceflight.

The Starship upper stage is one of the most unique rocket stages to be flying, and is the first fully reusable second stage of a rocket ever developed. Made of stainless steel and six raptor engines, the starship upper stage is tuned to operation in the vacuum of space. After deploying a payload, the upper stage is able to then reenter into space by using its array of heat shield tiles. These tiles are able to absorb the heat and forces of reentry.

The Starship Super Heavy rocket is both taller and more powerful than NASA’s Saturn V and SLS vehicles, and will allow a new access to space that has never been seen before. Combined, both vehicles have undergone a rigorous testing campaign over the past year, and are closely approaching their first launch attempt.