Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen SpaceX go from a dirt field in Texas to launching prototypes of the most advanced rocket ever made.
The exciting developments down in Boca Chica have been mesmerizing to watch – and it’s clear that SpaceX are now all in on making Starship a success.
Why spaceX is planning a starships?
In the future, they plan to have a fleet of Starships, launching all around the world with destinations such as the Moon, Mars and even other places here on Earth.
They want to operate Starship just like an airliner, with each vehicle carrying hundreds of passengers and doing multiple flights per day. But many think this exciting future is just too good to be true.
Upon launch, a fully assembled Starship will be incredibly loud. With around 28 raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster, the sound level – even from 8 kilometres away – would be around 112 decibels.
This is like someone using a chainsaw while standing right next to you. Not only would this sound level be extremely disruptive to nearby residents, it could also be extremely dangerous.
The closer to Starship you get, the sound waves become powerful enough to smash windows and damage buildings. If Starship launches are to be as frequent as SpaceX hope, they will need to move the launch and landing pads far away from civilization.
Early renders of Starship show a sleek looking launch platform several miles off shore.
Ideas for SpaceX Starships
The idea is that Starships would launch and land from these platforms without ever having to go back to dry land. But even in the world of spaceflight, this isn’t a new idea.
The company Sea Launch which started back in the 90s, specialized in launching the Zenit rocket from a floating sea platform which used to be a former oil rig. Although it may seem like quite a small operation, this was no small rocket.
The Zenit was almost the same size as the Falcon 9 and could carry a similar amount of mass into orbit.
In its day, Sea Launch was pretty successful. But high running costs and a lack of flights eventually caused them to go bankrupt.
However, Sea Launch demonstrated that there are a lot of benefits to launching from the sea. When launching from typical launch sites like Cape Canaveral, rockets aren’t allowed to fly over populated areas, so they usually head out over the sea. This drastically limits the range of orbits it can achieve.
Geostationary orbits SpaceX
For geostationary orbits, rockets need to fly perfectly above the equator and travel with the rotation of Earth. This means that the rocket spends much more of its fuel just getting down to the equator.
When launching from a sea platform, any orbit can be achieved. This isn’t the main consideration for SpaceX – but with their constantly growing Starlink constellation, an offshore launch platform would help them to reach a much wider range of orbits and cover the globe with their satellites.
Last year, we saw various job postings from SpaceX looking to hire engineers and technicians for offshore launch platforms. After all, with the incredible pace of Starships development, an offshore launch platform could be needed much sooner than expected.
Just several miles away from their Boca Chica site is the Port of Brownsville, home to many oil rigs which operate out in the Gulf of Mexico.
SpaceX on future launch platform
If SpaceX were working on a future launch platform, it would most likely be happening here. Sure enough, at the start of this year, one specific oil rig caught everyone’s attention.
Sitting amongst the tanker ships in the Port of Brownsville was an oil rig sporting the name Deimos, a Moon of Mars. After further investigation, this oil rig used to be owned by a company called Valaris, which went bankrupt in 2020.
After declaring bankruptcy, they sold this oil rig along with another identical rig to a company called Lonestar Mineral Development. The other oil rig was also named after a Martian Moon and resided in a port elsewhere in Texas.
Lonestar managed to purchase Deimos and Phobos for just $3.5 million each, a great price considering these rigs cost $515 million to build.
But who was the mysterious company behind this transaction? Well as it turns out, Lonestar Mineral Development is a subsidiary of SpaceX. This confirms that SpaceX are going ahead with their offshore launch platform idea.
SpaceX buying oil rigs
But how will SpaceX convert these oil rigs to be able to launch and land Starships? To get a better idea, let’s take a closer look at the rigs SpaceX have just purchased. These rigs are semi-submersible and can be moved out to sea and anchored in place.
With large ship-like hulls placed well below the surface, these rigs are much more stable and less affected by waves than SpaceX current droneships.
Each rig is 73 by 78 meters wide and has 8 thrusters, each producing around 3,500 horsepower. Since these rigs operate many miles out at sea, they rely on their own power, which in this case is provided by 7 enormous diesel engines.
But since Elon Musk is at the helm of this project, it seems likely that these will be taken out and replaced with a more renewable form of energy, like wind or solar.
Before SpaceX can start customizing these rigs for Starship, they will need to take down a lot of the existing structures that were used to support the drilling equipment.
Costing and all details of SpaceX oil rig
Dismantling an oil rig is a costly but very common thing to do, once it reaches the end of its life cycle. Judging by SpaceX previous renders, the launch platform will be fairly simple on top.
They need a large space for the landing area, a tank farm to store propellants and a large crane to lift and stack Starship. The large tower in the middle, known as a Derrick, was used to support all of the heavy drilling equipment.
At first it may seem like this tower could be used as the foundations for the massive lifting crane. But underneath this tower is the moon pool which is essentially a giant hole in the platform.
Energy produced by starships engine SpaceX
During launch, the energy produced by Starships engines will be extremely powerful. So SpaceX will want to direct as much of that energy into the sea, where it will be absorbed instead of damaging the launch platform.
It seems likely that SpaceX will use this moon pool to their advantage and build the launch mount on top, allowing the engines to sit above the water.
SpaceX will also need to build an entire tank farm to contain the enormous amounts of propellants used for flight. While the current tank farm in Boca Chica is large, its only designed to service Starship prototypes, which require much less fuel than a fully stacked Starship.
On the oil rig, there is enough space for around 4 of these tank farms. But in order to shield the tank farm and free up space for a landing pad, it will likely be placed below the deck.
How SpaceX will get propellants to launch platform?
Then there is the question of how SpaceX would actually get the propellants to the launch platform. The main propellants for Starship are liquid oxygen and liquid methane.
Right now, these propellants are currently transported to Boca Chica by truck, where they are unloaded into the tank farm. In order to keep the launch platform filled up, they will rely on regular deliveries from tanker ships.
Right now, SpaceX is working on a brand new facility in Boca Chica which will allow them to start producing their own propellants.
In order to produce a large amount of propellant, these facilities need to be extremely large and require a huge amount of energy. SpaceX short term plan is to produce their own liquid oxygen from the launch platform while the liquid methane would be delivered by a tanker ship.
Will SpaceX produce propellants in future?
In the future though, SpaceX wants to use the sabatier process to produce their own propellants. This process involves turning hydrogen and carbon dioxide into oxygen and methane, something SpaceX will need to do to produce propellants on Mars.
Getting to this point will be very challenging for SpaceX, but the lessons they learn along the way will help them prepare for their first trips to Mars. If they are successful in achieving this, they will cut out the massive costs and time delays involved in shipping the propellants out to the launch platform.
Problem in producing own propellants
This raises yet another problem though. These rigs will be saturated with oil and grease after many years of service in the oil industry.
Combining this with rocket flames and high pressure liquid oxygen is a fire hazard on another level. So SpaceX will need to do a lot of cleaning on the oil rig and will likely need to replace almost everything that isn’t part of the structure.
When will we see SpaceX oil rigs mission?
In the coming months, we should start to see progress being made on these oil rigs. Little by little, they will be stripped down until all that’s left is the basic structure. Then we will really see what SpaceX has in store.
Either way, it is incredible to see SpaceX yet again take on these incredible challenges to bring us a future that is equally exciting. In order for SpaceX to achieve this, they will need to hire the best technicians and engineers with expertise in converting oil rigs.
With everything that SpaceX does, they look for the smartest and most ambitious workers with the right skills for the job.
In this article, we have talked about SpaceX and their oil rigs plan. Why SpaceX is buying oil rigs is answered in this article. They are planning to lauch platform for which they are buying oil rigs. Elon Musk is the man with great visions and his SpaceX company will take space technology to the next level.
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