Elon Musk plans to build Mars spaceships in Los Angeles - here's what we know about SpaceX's future rocket factory
Elon Musk is working on something out-of-this-world in Los Angeles.
Most recently, Musk said SpaceX hopes to begin short up-and-down launches of the BFR system's 157-foot-tall spaceship in early 2019.
Until now, however, SpaceX has been mum about where, exactly, it plans to build such enormous rockets.
On Monday, a member of the r/SpaceX community on Reddit noticed a curious move by the Board of Harbor Commissioners in Los Angeles. The organization recently and quietly approved a 788-page plan by SpaceX to lease an 18-acre site in the Port of Los Angeles, including a 200,000-square-foot facility to "to manufacture large commercial transportation vessels".
Eric Berger at Ars Technica has since anonymously confirmed that the facility "is, indeed, intended for the manufacture of the BFR."
A source close to the matter told Business Insider that SpaceX is likely just weeks away from being officially offered a lease to the site.
Here's what we know about the proposed plan, and what SpaceX's "state-of-the-art" Mars rocket factory may look like when finished.
Musk has dreams of colonizing Mars with reusable BFR spaceships that can carry up to 100 people or 140,000 lbs into space. Eventually, he'd like 1 million people to colonize the red planet over decades, as a backup plan for Earth.
Fully assembled, the BFR will be about 348 feet tall — some 40 feet bigger than the Statue of Liberty.
To transport the rocket's enormous spaceship and booster to a launch site, the company will need to use a boat. Because of that, SpaceX's campus in Hawthorne isn't a practical location to build and assemble the BFR since it's not on the water.
That's why SpaceX hopes to get a 10-year lease on Terminal Island, which is about 18 miles southeast of its headquarters.
The company has drawn up plans to fix up and develop Berth 240: a 14-acre site. SpaceX already has access to three LA berths for ongoing rocket recovery operations.
SpaceX currently leases Berths 51-53 for about $3,500 per acre per month. The company uses them to recover any Falcon 9 rocket boosters it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The boosters tower about 15 stories high, land on a robotic ocean barge, and return to land by boat. This saves millions of dollars per launch.
The berths SpaceX currently uses are on the Port of Los Angeles' East Channel. "They've already got about eight acres — 8.1 to be specific," Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations for the Port of Los Angeles, told Business Insider.
The new site SpaceX hopes to lease — Berth 240 — is less than a mile away from the other berths, and 222% larger. It's also home to some historic buildings.
Berth 240 has been dormant since 2006, aside from a few TV and movie shoots. During World War II, it was used to crank out Victory ships to help transport US soldiers home en masse.
The plot is close to a low-security federal prison (shown at center) and a commercial fishing dock, which should help keep the rent cheap.
SpaceX plans to work around the historic buildings and build a 200,000-square-foot spacecraft factory, dubbed "Building A," according to its proposal.
There will be enough parking for 438 cars, which will allow plenty of SpaceX engineers and technicians to come work on getting to Mars.
Right now, the site is a bunch of dirt, gravel, and broken asphalt. Some of the land is contaminated with chemicals and has to be dug up and buried somewhere else.
SpaceX will also have to knock down this decrepit pumping station to make room for the facility.
Once complete, the BFR components will travel by ship. To where, you ask?
All the way to Brownsville, Texas, where the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site is located. SpaceX did not respond to questions about how the first BFR spaceship will get to McGregor, Texas, for testing. (It's about 400 miles away by truck.)
Musk hopes to launch the first BFRs toward Mars in 2022 with supplies, then follow it up in 2024 with the first people. But he warned that timeline is "aspirational."
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