SpaceX opts for Texas over LA to build Starship prototypes

Update: CEO Elon Musk says on Twitter that Starship and Raptor (rocket engine) development is staying in Hawthorne, while prototypes are being built in Texas. Musk also said that the story “stems from a miscommunication by SpaceX.” Original story follows (the headline has also been updated).

SpaceX is centering some of its next-generation development not its Los Angeles-area headquarters but in south Texas facilities, the company said today. Development of at least the test versions of its next-generation Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle will take place in Texas, while Falcon 9 and Dragon work will remain at Hawthorne. The L.A. Times first reported the news.

The decision spells trouble for workers at the Hawthorne, Calif. facility, where many of SpaceX’s work has been done heretofore — however, it may also come as little surprise to those who have been following closely. The layoffs announced last week, the bulk of which are reportedly at Hawthorne, is logical considering the company’s shift away from development to operation and maintenance of the Falcon 9 system.

Initial plans had been for SpaceX to build at least some of its Starship and Super Heavy kit at the L.A. port and perform tests at the nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. But as evident not just from today’s news, but the actual presence of the eye-catching steel hopper in Texas, that will no longer be the case.

SpaceX offered the following statement:

To streamline operations, SpaceX is developing and will test the Starship test vehicle at our site in South Texas. This decision does not impact our current manufacture, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Additionally, SpaceX will continue recovery operations of our reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft at the Port of Los Angeles.

It’s a soft way of saying that they’ll keep the old (but still very important and active) SpaceX stuff at Hawthorne but that it’s putting the rest of its eggs in the Texas basket.

Update: Technically SpaceX’s statement only says that the test vehicle will be developed in Texas, not necessarily the full-scale Starship and Super Heavy vehicles. That said it is rather hard to imagine that the company would build, assemble, and test it in Texas, with all the enormous and specialized equipment and personnel that requires, and relocate afterwards. It also seems unlikely that a city councilperson would characterize the move as “pulling the #SuperHeavy out of the @PortofLA” if that were not the case.

I’ve asked SpaceX for clarification on what specific Starship and Super Heavy operations it intends to continue in Hawthorne.