Anyone who has visited SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California knows that the company has stocked its facilities with Falcon 9 first stages, fairings and Dragon capsules. In the coming years, if the company moves to production of the Big Falcon Rocket or BFR vehicle, it will need much more capacity.
The company has not explicitly stated where it will build the BFR, which is expected to be 106 meters high and nine meters wide. It has to be near water, because such a large vehicle cannot be transported via a highway to the launch pad or test sites, the means currently used to move the Falcon 9 rocket.
A new document from the Port of Los Angeles indicates the company is making progress with plans to build a “state-of-the-art” industrial manufacturing facility near Long Beach, about 20 miles south of its headquarters. . The document summarizes an environmental study of the port site, on behalf of a proposed tenant: WW Marine Composites, LLC. This turns out to be a subsidiary of SpaceX.
The company plans to use an 18-hectare site at berth 240 in the port “to build and operate a facility for the manufacture of large commercial transport vessels.” The site’s activities include “transport vessel research and development and will likely include general manufacturing procedures such as welding, curing composites, cleaning, painting and assembly.” Completed ships should be transported by water because of their size, the document states, as a way of explaining why the company needs a facility right on the water.
The document also noted that the 10-year lease, with up to two 10-year renewals, “allows for recovery operations undertaken by Space Exploration Technologies to bring vehicles returning from space to shore and retrieved by an autonomous drone ship off the coast.” This would be for the first phase of the Falcon 9 rocket salvage and probably for the payload fairings as well.
Although the document was approved earlier this month, it didn’t get more attention until Monday when it was shared on the social news site reddit. The company has not confirmed that the facility will be used for the BFR. Asked for comment, SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend told Ars, “SpaceX is in preliminary discussions with the Port of LA about the potential to lease additional land for operations.”
However, an independent source confirmed that this facility is indeed intended for the manufacture of the BFR missile in Los Angeles.
It’s not clear when SpaceX would begin manufacturing vehicles at the new facilities. However, the company may begin testing the large “spaceship” portion of the BFR at the Brownsville, Texas launch site sometime in 2019. This will include testing during short “hops” of the seven Raptor engines that will provide propulsion for the spacecraft part of the BFR.