SpaceX Cancels its Lease at Port of LA for the Second Time

Tooling for building composite BFR rocket bodies at a temporary facility at Port of LA, 2018 (SpaceX)

Published Jun 11, 2020 8:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

Once again, the Elon Musk-controlled commercial spaceflight company SpaceX has decided to abandon its plans for a manufacturing facility at the Port of Los Angeles.

The decision was communicated to the port on March 27 and finalized effective May 11, but it was not reported until June 8. It was SpaceX's second cancellation of a plan to build an aerospace plant on a disused plot of port-owned waterfront on Terminal Island - a desirable location for loading and shipping oversized rocket parts.

The facility would have been used for building composite body sections for the future SpaceX BFR rocket - a vehicle designed for an ambitious manned mission to Mars. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has also proposed that the BFR might be used for ultra-fast passenger services: as an example, a Shanghai-to-New York flight would last just 40 minutes rather than 15 hours on an airliner.

SpaceX and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti first announced plans to build the plant in April 2018. "The Port [of Los Angeles] will play an increasingly important role in our mission to help make humanity multi-planetary as SpaceX begins production development of BFR," said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell in a statement at the time.

In January 2019, SpaceX announced that it was laying off 10 percent of its workforce and canceling the lease at Terminal Island. Instead, SpaceX said, it would move its work on the prototype BFR to Texas. 

The company made another reversal early this year, asking permission from LA's city council and the seaport's board to revive the lease. One month after it received approval to go ahead with a smaller 12-acre plot, it canceled the contract for the second time.

A spokesperson for city councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes the port, said that SpaceX's second cancellation was "frustrating" after the effort that had been put in to get the lease approved a second time. 

The SpaceX lease cancellation came amidst tensions between Musk's other company, carmaker Tesla, and local and state officials in California. In May, citing frustration over Alameda County's COVID-19 shutdown regulations, Musk threatened to relocate Tesla's headquarters and its future expansion to Texas or Nevada. Tesla had resumed operations at its Fremont factory in spite of a county order; in a social media post, Musk said that he would be there and that "if anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."