On January 18, aerospace photographer Jack Beyer tweeted, “I've been exploring around the Port of Brownsville while waiting for Starship testing and found an oil rig that appears to be named Deimos, after one of the moons of Mars! Based on job postings and @elonmusk's tweets, I'm willing to bet that SpaceX is involved.”
Beyer’s suspicions were soon confirmed by his collaborator, aerospace journalist Michael Baylor (of Spaceflight.com), who wrote on his Twitter account, “I can confirm that Deimos and Phobos are the names of two oil rigs purchased by SpaceX – likely for conversion to support Starship operations. ENSCO 8500 and ENSCO 8501 were the previous names of the rigs. They are nearly identical twins.”
Elon Musk had made no significant efforts to keep the company’s plans secret. Last June, he tweeted, “SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth.” Following Beyer’s discovery, Baylor was able to find public records documenting the purchase of the oil rigs as well as an ad seeking a resort development manager to turn SpaceX’s Brownsville facility into a “21st-century spaceport.”
One Way from Texas to Mars
A tribute to Musk’s fascination with the red planet, the twin oil rigs have been baptized Deimos and Phobos after the two moons of Mars. In Greek mythology, Deimos is the god of dread and terror, and his twin brother Phobos is the god of fear. They are the sons of Ares, god of war and courage, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty.
ENSCO 8500 and ENSCO 8501 were originally deepwater drilling rigs (up to 8,500 feet). They are located offshore, near the port of Brownsville, Texas. In aerial photos of the platform, one can now read the names Deimos and Phobos on the two future launching pads.
The projected spaceport location is very strategic for SpaceX, which has a Starship development site in Brownsville. Texas has become the center of operations for Musk, who recently moved to the state. In December, amid rumors that he was escaping California’s steep taxation, the tech billionaire clarified that he was moving to Texas to focus on SpaceX’s Starship and Tesla’s new Gigafactory, which is under construction near Austin.
“Silicon Valley, or the Bay Area, has too much influence on the world, in my opinion,” Musk said. “The Bay Area has outsized influence on the world.” Naturally, the fact that Texas has no personal income tax must have also played a role in Musk’s decision to relocate to the Lone Star State. Tesla is also expanding internationally with factories in Shanghai and Berlin. Meanwhile, SpaceX is planning to drill for natural gas near its Boca Chica launchpad. The company will use the extracted methane to power its rocket facility.
SpaceX plans to send a group of civilians into space before the end of the year. At the helm of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will be Jared Isaacman, CEO of Shift4 Payments.
SpaceX said in a statement that "The mission will launch from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will be carefully monitored at every step by SpaceX mission control as the spacecraft orbits the planet every 90 minutes along a customized flight path. Upon conclusion of the multi-day journey, Dragon will reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida."
During Superbowl Sunday, SpaceX unveiled an ad for the mission, known as Inspiration4, launching a marketing campaign that will give one lucky donor to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital the chance to join the trip.
While SpaceX’s spacecraft tests make more headlines when they fail, the truth is that the company has already sent NASA astronauts into orbit successfully and routinely operates shuttle services between Earth and various artificial satellites.
Musk has often been characterized as overly optimistic in his predictions for the colonization of Mars. Still, the all-civilian mission to space will inaugurate a new space exploration era and will likely impact SpaceX’s financial prospects.
“Over the last five years, Tesla stock has gone from about $40 dollars to $900,” Jimmy Vallee of Valhil Capital comments. “I believe over the next decade SpaceX shares are going to experience even more spectacular growth.”
Musk has explained his vision quite succinctly in a tweet, "About half my money is intended to help problems on Earth, and half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life (of all species) in case Earth gets hit by a meteor like the dinosaurs or WW3 happens and we destroy ourselves."
“Biden’s win and a Democratic majority in the Senate will definitely drive a green agenda that will benefit the electric car business, most prominently Tesla,” Vallee predicts. In this favorable scenario, and having just become the richest man on the planet, one could say that for Musk, as Neil de Grasse Tyson put it, the sky is not the limit.