SpaceX aims to ramp up rocket production at Boca Chica

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Unlike SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s first two live Starship presentations at the company’s Boca Chica/Starbase production and testing complex, members of the media were not invited to an April 4 presentation at the site, only SpaceX employees.

Musk told the dozens gathered that Boca Chica is “basically … a sand spit by the Rio Grande near the beach that is actually the gateway to Mars,” adding that it’s a scenario too implausible for Hollywood even, but true nonetheless.

“You’re doing incredible work that I think almost no one thought would actually happen,” he told the employees.

The third Starship orbital flight attempt from Boca Chica on March 14 was the most successful to date, according to the company, with the ship reaching orbital velocity for the first time, although it burned up on reentry rather than remaining intact for a hard landing in the Indian Ocean as planned. Also, the Super Heavy booster self-destructed before it could make a scheduled hard landing in the Gulf some 20 miles offshore.

The fourth orbital flight attempt is coming up “in about a month or so,” Musk said. The next launch, like the previous ones, will require permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is still carrying out a mishap investigation of the third orbital attempt.

“And with flight four, if fate smiles upon us, we’ll get through the high heating regime and smash into the ocean at a controlled spot,” he said.

Ideally, flight four will see the booster successfully land on a “virtual tower” (unlike Boca Chica’s actual integration/launch tower) in the Gulf, Musk said.

“If the landing on the virtual tower with the booster works, then we will actually try with flight five to come back and land on the tower,” he said. “That’s very much a success-oriented schedule, but it is in the realm of possibility.”

The massive tower, featuring two mechanical grabbing arms for “stacking” Starship-Super Heavy, and potentially, eventually catching the vehicles during landing, is nicknamed “Mechazilla.” SpaceX is building another one at Boca Chica and two more at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for Starship launches from there as well. They all should be finished sometime next year, Musk said.

He also reiterated something he said at his last live presentation at Boca Chica, in February 2022, that Starbase will be reserved for “development launches and testing new things.”

“What we should probably expect is that we do kind of the development launches here, test anything new here, build the rockets,” Musk said. “And then probably most of the operational launches would be from the Cape.”

SpaceX is developing a specialized version of Starship to land astronauts on the moon again for the first time in more than 50 years, as part of NASA’s Artemis lunar program, per SpaceX’s $2.9 billion contract with the space agency, awarded in 2022. That first crewed mission is now scheduled for no earlier than September 2026. A permanently occupied moon base is also in the works.

Musk’s overarching goal, however, is to establish a permanent human presence on Mars to make the species interplanetary and preserve “the light of consciousness,” he said.

Toward that end, SpaceX is building a massive, $100 million factory at Boca Chica to drastically increase rocket production, to the point that multiple ships are being completed each day, Musk said, noting that company has made “dramatic progress on every level for Starship.”

“This year we’re planning to build roughly another six boosters and ships, and that production rate will increase a lot by next year,” he said. “That’s why we’re building the giant factory. Ultimately we’ll need to build a lot more ships than boosters, especially for Mars. You’ll actually want to take apart the ship and use it for raw materials on Mars, because the ship materials will be so valuable. Most of the ships you wouldn’t want to bring back.

Eventually we will want to bring ships back, and I think we’ll want to give people the option of coming back, because they’re more likely to go if there’s some option of coming back. But I think most of the people that go to Mars probably will never come back to Earth.”

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