It’s been a while since we’ve heard any news around Phobos and Deimos, SpaceX’s retired oil rigs being converted into sea platforms for Starship. It turns out that’s because SpaceX quietly abandoned plans to turn either of its rigs into launchpads at sea.
While we initially saw progress on the project in the first few months, it became apparent last year that SpaceX was in no rush the complete it. Space Explored shared shots of this progress in July 2021.
Elon Musk hosted a Starship media event in February 2022 at Starbase where he provided an update on the status of the sea platforms. Musk described the project as being on the back burner at the time while describing future plans for one of the sea platforms. From SE’s Seth Kurkowski after the event:
Secondly, we have SpaceX’s pair of sea launching platforms. Last year SpaceX purchased the oil rigs, named Deimos and Phobos, and placed them at ports in Brownsville, Texas and Pascagoula, Mississippi.
To date, we’ve only seen updates to Phobos as its deck has been stripped down of most of its oil drilling equipment. However, Elon said that just the other week SpaceX began work on one to include a launch tower and catch arms system like that currently built at Starbase.
We don’t know which rig will get these updates, but it could be either. Phobos has had the most work done on it. However, Deimos is the closest to existing SpaceX facilities in Boca Chica.
News of the demise of both sea platforms comes this week from Gaven Cornwell (@SpaceOffshore), who first highlighted publicly that the two oil rigs were set to depart from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the conversion work was being done.
Space News provides the final nail in the coffin for the sea launch platform project:
[…] SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters after a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 8 that the company had sold the rigs after concluding they were not suited to serving as launch platforms.
“We bought them. We sold them. They were not the right platform,” she said. She didn’t disclose when SpaceX sold the rigs or to whom.
[…] She said she expected offshore platforms to eventually play a role to support an extraordinarily high launch cadence.
As for the rocket itself, SpaceX is progressing along as it prepares for the first Starship orbital launch test in the weeks ahead. Stay updated on the latest Starship news here.