SpaceX’s grand vision for Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it’s currently in the process of developing, includes not only trips to Mars, but also regular point-to-point flights right here on Earth. These would skim the Earth’s outer atmosphere, reducing travel times for regular international flights from many hours to around 30 minutes. They’ll need to take off from somewhere, however, and rockets are a bit more disturbing to their local environs than traditional aircraft, so part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plan for their regular use is covering oil rig platforms into floating spaceports.
Musk has talked about these plans before, and SpaceX recently went so far as to purchase two rigs — which it nicknamed Phoibos and Deimos after the moons of Mars. These are currently in the process of being retrofitted for use with Starship, and they’ll be stationed in the Gulf of Mexico near SpaceX’s Brownsville, Texas development site.
On Wednesday, Musk said on Twitter that one of the two platforms could be at least partially operational by the end of 2021. The SpaceX CEO is known for his optimistic timelines, but a lot of them have actually been relatively accurate lately — or at least not quite as unrealistic as in years past.
What he means by “in limited operation” isn’t necessarily clear. That could mean that they’re floating where they’re supposed to be, and technically capable of playing host to a Starship prototype, but not that SpaceX will be actively launching Starships from one by end of year. He did add that the plan is to put floating launchpads for Starship not only in the Gulf, but also at various points around the world — which is in keeping with the bold plan he shared via CG concept videos when Starship debuted, which depicted launch and landing facilities stationed in bodies of water near urban destinations.