SpaceX to Build BFR at Port of Los Angeles

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have confirmed the company plans to build its BFR rocket at the Port of Los Angeles.

The city Board of Harbor Commissioners will vote Thursday on whether to lease 19 acres to SpaceX for the manufacturing site. The commission’s staff has recommended approval of an initial 10-year term, with two 10-year options, at an annual rent of approximately $1.38 million….

SpaceX, based in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, already uses the Port of Los Angeles for missions that recover Falcon 9 first-stage boosters on a floating platform in the Pacific and when it recovers supply capsules that parachute into the ocean after missions to the international space station.

“SpaceX has called the Port of Los Angeles home to our west coast recovery operations since 2012 and we truly appreciate the City of Los Angeles’ continued partnership,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and COO, said in a statement.

“As announced today by Mayor Garcetti, the Port will play an increasingly important role in our mission to help make humanity multi-planetary as SpaceX begins production development of BFR — our next generation rocket and spaceship system capable of carrying crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

Read the full story.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Meanwhile Elon Musk is not waiting on the red tape to start building the prototype BFR. Instead he just put up a large tent and is building it inside.

    SpaceX moving fast on Mars rocket development, BFR tent spied with more tooling

    By Eric Ralph
    Posted on April 15, 2018

    “Finally, it’s worth noting just how shockingly busy the BFR tent was on both April 13th and 14th, as well as the 8th (the first day Pauline visited the facility). With upwards of 40 cars parked at the tent, it’s blindingly clear that SpaceX is not simply using the tent as a temporary storage location – alongside the arrival of composite fabrication materials (prepreg sheets, epoxy, etc) from Airtech International, SpaceX undeniably intends to begin initial fabrication of the first BFR prototypes in this tent, although they will likely eventually move the activities to the Berth 240 Mars rocket factory. That’s certainly not a sentence I ever expected to write, but it is what it is.”

    Yes, he is moving full speed ahead on BFR. Go Elon!

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    First block 5 booster already delivered to the Cape, hanging out in 39A HIF now, Aside from any cleanup work and bits for FH on block 5, all the booster development is done. This means huge resources can be freed up to start building BFS.

    Basically, they just need to get Dragon v2 flying and FH on block 5 and most of the design engineers can swing over leaving a small crew to handling sustaining legacy platforms. The excitement on the engineering side must be huge, this why they are all there, to build this system.

  • duheagle

    That’s been happening incrementally for two years. Most of the engineering staff have long since been assigned to BFR-BFS work. Much of the design is, in fact, done already. You don’t start construction of something that isn’t designed yet.

  • duheagle

    I took a drive down to Terminal Island last week to see what was going on around Slip 240, expecting to see that big white tent there. Most of the scruffy old Southwest Marine site is surrounded by fencing with fabric viewscreening, but the few gaps I could see through made it pretty clear this big tent is not close to Slip 240 and its several associated berths. I did see what looked like the big white tent in the Acalin photos located rather further north of Slip 240 just south of the Vincent Thomas bridge that connects Terminal Island to mainland L.A. The streets on Terminal Island are a rat maze and I was unable to figure out how to get close to said big white tent, but I’ll be giving it another go soon.

    Perhaps the sizable area SpaceX intends to lease on Terminal Island is dumbell-shaped with large areas well north of Slip 240 and near Slip 240 connected by an access way. I have seen no actual map of the proposed SpaceX leasehold. If that’s the case, this tent may be serving as a temporary expedient to keep the elements off the thus-far-delivered tooling. It looks as though there’s plenty of room to actually put up a pre-fabricated clear-span steel building right over the big tent, then take the tent down afterward. That might, as Mr. Ralph speculates, indeed allow SpaceX to start at least limited fabrication operations while the permanent factory building is still under construction.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yes and No. From a propulsion perspective, yes they’ve had a significant effort going for years. For the rest of it, very modest until recently. The plan to downsize BFR and bring in the schedule is pretty recent, under two years. In that time much work was outstanding on F9/FH and Dragon. For instance, a popular senior engineer on Twitter was recently re-assigned.

    What SpaceX is building currently can be closer thought to be an X-35 vs F-35 in airplane terms. For that, you don’t have to have the entire design chapter and verse, just the bones. For instance, recent renders seem to indicate BFR got a bit taller. Another example would be Have Blue demonstrator vs F-117.

    These aircraft were built at the Skunk Works with very minimal staff and without rigorous attention to the design end to end for the bells and whistles. Just enough to get something in the air and demonstrate the long tent poles are basically understood. For early prototypes such as this, engineering and manufacturing can play a hit and run.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX has been working on a lot more than propulsion for quite some time. A chance-met SpaceX engineer I chatted up a few months back told me that a senior colleague of his had been reassigned to full-time BFR-BFS work about a year and a half ago. These guys were not working on propulsion. That strongly suggests to me that the BFR-BFS workforce has probably been the largest single group within SpaceX for a year or more. Other known SpaceX projects would not have required such a large headcount and have been in production mode for some time (e.g., Dragon 2)

    Whether the first test article that emerges from the Terminal Island plant-about-to-be exactly resembles the vehicle that first lands people on Mars is, as you point out, unlikely anyway. Many production aircraft have had notable variances anent their prototypes. To your list of X-35 vs. F-35 and Have Blue vs. F-117A I would also add the XB-52 vs. the B-52.

    In the case of SpaceX, an additional driver of such changes is the company’s well-established SOP of continually upgrading its flagship products.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I didn’t say no work has been done, they built a tank after all. Each sub-system would have a few people working on BFR driving early designs. I’m talking about the bulk of engineering hadn’t moved.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    They are 10 minutes drive apart right?,+822-,+1046+S+Seaside+Ave,+San+Pedro,+CA+90731/Reeves+Avenue,+San+Pedro,+CA/@33.7469202,-118.2675988,2190m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x80dd37b34de4442f:0xe3f7220da51b925!2m2!1d-118.2689624!2d33.734152!1m5!1m1!1s0x80dd36f6f0f81793:0x2944a558f8f9ce17!2m2!1d-118.2491012!2d33.7519057

    This may be a function of timing. They may have been able to get this small patch near the tent on short term lease until the rest went through with mods to full site. Musk seems like he wants something flying quick, hence the pop-up tank factory down the road. I still think it is more likely they will start laying up some prototypes in the tent vs not. Otherwise they would have just left the tooling where it was until the facility was finished.

  • Tony_Morales

    If a tent was good enough for Lockheed Skunkworks when they first started up, it should be good enough for our pal Elon 😛

  • duheagle

    You’re wrong.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yup, I remember when I was wrong about BFR downsize and replacement for F9/Dragon….

  • duheagle

    Actual fabrication work in the tent would depend upon whether or not it has suitable electrical power service. It’s also difficult to air condition a big tent in California’s climate. Most aerospace factories are air conditioned so that close tolerances on parts can be held. Perhaps for carbon fiber composites of such large size, that isn’t a big issue – I don’t know.

    But if all SpaceX is waiting on is official approval of the 10-year lease agreement for the Slip 240 site by the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners, site clearing and construction of the new factory building(s) on the old Southwest Marine site could begin as soon as tomorrow afternoon (the Commissioners meeting is in the morning). Large, pre-fab clear-span steel buildings can be run up in a hurry, as witness SpaceX’s prior quick construction of its various Horizontal Integration Facilities.

    I don’t know what the process was for negotiating the lease deal for the new factory, but – given that governmental entities were involved – one cannot assume that it went according to a firm schedule. Perhaps the tent is, as I suspect, just a temporary expedient to hold tooling that was scheduled for delivery on particular dates and which has been arriving while the lease negotiations proceeded.

    All speculation on my part.

    Where did you find the map you posted? The arrow on Reeves Ave. looks about right in terms of the location of what I’m pretty sure was that big white tent I saw on last week’s excursion.

    Thanks for the navigation tip.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I made the map based on data from NSF forum posts.

  • duheagle


  • duheagle

    That explains why I hadn’t seen it. I’m not a member.

  • Mr Snarky Answer