Onshore/Offshore Facilities

SpaceX Sells Former Oilfield Rigs

Elon Musk-led firm puts hold on exploration of marine-based launch pads ... for now.

The ENSCO 8500 semisubmersible was renamed Deimos last year.
Source: Keppel FELS

SpaceX will not convert two semisubmersible oil rigs into launch platforms as originally planned, and has sold the former Ensco rigs to an undisclosed party. The company bought the units back in 2020 with plans to convert the rigs into offshore launch pads for its Starship vehicle. The rigs—the former ENSCO 8500 and 8501—were renamed Deimos and Phobos after the two moons of Mars.

Both units were sold by offshore drilling contractor Valaris for $3.5 million each. Valaris was formed in 2019 when Ensco acquired Rowan. The company was forced into bankruptcy protection in 2021 as offshore markets languished as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe.

The semisubs were taken to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for conversion work, but it is not thought much of that work ever took place. A Port of Pascagoula Daily Shipping Report dated 13 February and posted to social media showed the Deimos was due to depart the port on 20 February. Phobos was set to follow on 12 March.

According to press reports, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters after a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference on 8 February 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 did not disclose when SpaceX sold the rigs or to whom.

Offshore launch bases are still expected to play a role in future Starship missions. Shotwell added that it was important to get some launches under their belts to see how Starship behaves before pursuing future ocean-based solutions.