SpaceX, the space exploration firm founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, announced Wednesday it will build test versions of its Mars spaceship in South Texas and not at the Port of Los Angeles, a decision made to streamline operations, the Hawthorne, California-based company said in a statement.
While the development of the Starship Hopper project will continue at their Los Angeles-area headquarters, prototypes will be constructed at the company’s Rio Grande Valley launch facility in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas. “We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” said Musk.
This announcement came days after the aerospace company said it will lay off approximately 10 percent of its workforce of more than 6,000 employees. Breitbart News reported the layoffs came not long after SpaceX investors expressed concerns with one of Musk’s other recent pet projects, the Boring Company, makers of a futuristic tunnel system for self-driving cars. Reportedly, SpaceX has a six percent stake in the Boring Company but the SpaceX board never voted to invest funds into the tunnel maker.
Currently, most of the SpaceX workforce is located at the company’s Hawthorne base. Recently, Musk said SpaceX “must become a leaner company” to deliver their ambitious and costly projects such as the Hopper, a retro-style silver rocket already assembled in at the company’s Boca Chica Beach launch site. The test flight rocket received criticism over social media for looking as if it was constructed from tin foil. The rocket stands at 120 feet tall and will be used for suborbital vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) tests. The Hopper will launch to an altitude of five kilometers and hover before landing.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 11, 2019
Many anticipated the rocket would feature the company’s signature Raptor engines at its base. Musk verified the starship is outfitted with “a blend of Raptor development and operational parts.” The Hopper could begin launch and landing tests at the Boca Chica site as early as next month, according to the Brownsville Herald.
Last year, SpaceX won approval to lease 19 acres at Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles where the company planned to add 700 jobs and build a new facility to work on the interplanetary spacecraft Starship and its launch vehicle, the Super Heavy, which would be the largest rocket ever built, according to the Associated Press. From there, the spacecraft would have been barged or shipped to launch sites. However, SpaceX halted these plans with the move to South Texas.
Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield and Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino voiced disappointment with the company’s decision to move the projects to South Texas. SpaceX media representative Eva Behrend told the Brownsville Herald this decision to move build outs to Boca Chica will not affect the company’s existing manufacturing, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and at Vanderberg Air Force Base, also located in California.