According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX is currently constructing the floating spaceport platform named “Deimos” and plans to begin launching rockets from it as early as next year. The company also has plans for a twin platform called “Phobos.”
The two platforms are named after the two moons of Mars, a slight departure from its humorous naming of ocean-based assets like the drone barges “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions.” This echoes Elon Musk’s ambitions for a permanent Martian settlement, made possible by Starship spacecraft that are capable of ferrying large numbers of passengers and tons of cargo to the red planet.
The company is converting oil rigs that it purchased for the new launch platforms. It plans to both launch and land rocket stages on these platforms and will primarily use them for the Starship rockets, which are still under development.
SpaceX plans to use Starship for travel to other worlds, including Mars. It can also position the ocean-based launch platforms that are similar to Deimos and Phobos for convenient hypersonic point-to-point travel on Earth. Travelers could use it to get from New York to Beijing in less than half an hour, for instance. Elon Musk has also discussed the possibility that Starship could be used to clean up “space junk” like defunct satellites that haven’t yet burned up in the atmosphere and may pose a threat to active orbiting hardware.
CEO Elon Musk’s primary interests are in orbital and interplanetary applications of Starship and the accompanying Super Heavy booster, though. The Human Landing System that SpaceX is developing for NASA (and is currently officially on pause due to a challenge from rival Blue Origin) is a derivative of Starship, for instance.
He has acknowledged that such a venture will be risky and a lot of people are likely to die on a frontier world like Mars. On the flip side, his plans have been endorsed by people like theoretical physicist Michio Kaku and Mars Society president Robert Zubrin. Zubrin did add that Musk may need to work with other like-minded experts and entrepreneurs in order to pull it off, even though he is working on an important part of it: actually making it possible to get people to Mars.
“SpaceX is taking on the biggest single challenge, which is the transportation system. There’s all sorts of other systems that are going to be needed,” said Robert Zubrin.
Musk had originally planned to have the platforms ready by the end of 2021. However, like many of his ambitious timelines, delays in their development cause that to be pushed back to as early as 2022. SpaceX may need the extra time for testing of the Starship rocket. It recently successfully launched and landed a Starship prototype in one piece after going through four explosions of a prototype during or shortly after landing. The company is also planning an orbital test of Starship that will launch from its Boca Chica, Texas, test facility and come down off the Hawaiian coastline.