SPACEX has bought two offshore oil rigs that it will convert into floating spaceports for use on future mission to the Moon and Mars.
The huge portable platforms will one day act as launchpads for the US firm’s Starship rocket, which will embark on its first trip to space this year.
SpaceX purchased the rigs for $3.5million each last year from Valaris, shortly before the offshore rig company filed for bankruptcy, CNBC reports.
Named Phobos and Deimos, after the two Martian moons, the oil drilling sites were photographed off the port of Brownsville, Texas last week.
That’s just a few miles from the village of Boca Chica – the site of a huge facility where SpaceX is developing Starship.
The images captured by NasaSpaceflight show the huge steel towers of Phobos and Deimos dwarfing their surroundings.
Known as derricks, those steel structures once held the rigs’ huge drilling equipment. They closely resemble the hefty launch towers of a spaceport.
Nameplates with the rigs’ new titles – believed to have been cooked up by billionaire SpaceX boss Elon Musk – have already been installed.
Converting oil rigs to seafaring spaceports has been part of SpaceX’s plans for a while.
Floating pads are thought to offer more flexibility for future launches, as well as decreased risk and noise for those living nearby.
Musk revealed on Twitter last year that his company was planning to build “floating, superheavy-class spaceports” in the near future.
He said the launchpads would be used for Moon and Mars missions, as well as rocket-powered trips around Earth.
Starship is the next generation of SpaceX rocket designed for long-distance trips to faraway worlds.
The firm hopes to use the rocket to launch astronauts to the Moon and Mars within the next decade, and to set up a Martian colony by 2050.
Starship is in the early stages of development, and trial “launches” so far have largely taken the form of short hops of a few hundred feet.
These tests involve a single trash can-shaped engine but the final spacecraft will look a lot more like a traditional rocket, sporting a cone-shaped nose.
That all changed on December 8 when SN8 soared 7.8 miles into the air during a major flight test before exploding the moment it hit the ground.
Despite the rocket’s fiery demise, billionaire SpaceX boss Elon Musk – recently crowned the world’s richest man – hailed the launch as a success.
The prototype managed to reach its target height and collected plenty of useful data, the 49-year-old said.
Writing on Twitter before the launch, Musk had warned viewers that there was only a one-in-three chance the rocket would make it back in one piece.
“Lot of things need to go right,” he said. “But that’s why we have SN9 & SN10.”
Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, hopes to send a million people to Mars in his lifetime using a 1,000-strong fleet of the powerful rockets.
The finished product will stand 165ft (50 metres) tall and boast six of SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engines.
What is SpaceX?
Here’s what you need to know…
SpaceX is a cash-flushed rocket company that wants to take man to Mars.
It was set up by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk in 2002 and is based in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX’s first aim was to build rockets that could autonomously land back on Earth and be re-used.
Musk hoped the technology would make flying and operating space flights far cheaper.
SpaceX currently uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo to the International Space Station for Nasa.
It also carries satellites and other space tech into orbit for various international governments and companies.
The company took astronauts up to the ISS for the first time in 2020.
Other future missions involve carrying tourists and astronauts to the Moon.
Musk has repeatedly said he believes humanity must colonise Mars to save itself from extinction.
He plans to get a SpaceX rocket to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.
According to SpaceX, the contraption will hit speeds of 15,000mph (25,000kph), making it the world’s most powerful spacecraft.
In a series of tweets earlier this year, Musk outlined how his Starlink plans would open up space travel to anyone, regardless of their income.
“Needs to be such that anyone can go if they want, with loans available for those who don’t have money,” he wrote.
Musk’s plan involves building an expansive fleet of Starship vehicles, which comprise a huge rocket topped by a bullet-shaped spacecraft.
SpaceX says reusable rockets that can land and take off again make space travel more cost effective, accessible and sustainable.
However, the team has a long way to go before they can conduct Starship’s first manned flight.
Musk is targeting a Mars cargo missions by 2022 and a manned flight to the Red Planet by 2024.
Starship is scheduled for its first unmanned flight to space later this year.
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In other news, SpaceX completed its second successful Starship booster test flight in Setpember.
Musk wants to send humans to Mars as early as 2024 aboard one of the huge rockets.
And, Nasa set a hillside on fire during a recent test of the “most powerful rocket ever built”.
What do you think of Musk’s plans for Starship? Let us know in the comments!
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