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Starship test vehicle under constructon
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted this picture of a Starship prototype under construction in Texas in December. (Elon Musk via Twitter)

SpaceX says it’ll build and test the prototypes for its next-generation Starship space cruiser and Super Heavy booster in South Texas, despite a deal it struck to build a rocket factory at the Port of Los Angeles.

At least by some accounts, the turnabout is a setback to Los Angeles’ efforts to build a high-tech “Silicon Harbor” at the port, with SpaceX’s planned 18-acre site on Terminal Island as the centerpiece. The Los Angeles City Council approved a 20-year lease agreement with billionaire CEO Elon Musk’s company in May.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who touted the deal as “game-changing for our city” when it was approved, spread the news today (and tried to look at the bright side) in an early-morning pair of tweets:

SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., confirmed the change of plans in a statement:

“To streamline operations, SpaceX is developing and will test the Starship test vehicle at our site in South Texas. This decision does not impact our current manufacture, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Additionally, SpaceX will continue recovery operations of our reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft at the Port of Los Angeles.”

The development isn’t a complete surprise, for a couple of reasons. Over the past few weeks, the first version of the Starship test vehicle, known as the Starship Hopper, has been taking shape at SpaceX’s South Texas facility near Boca Chica Beach — and Musk has said that short-hop test flights would be launched from Texas as well, potentially in March or April.

Having the hardware built close to where it’s tested is more in line with SpaceX’s drive to make its operations leaner, as the company emphasized in last week’s announcement of workforce reductions.

“We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” Musk explained today in a tweet.

However, Musk also said development work for Starship and its methane-fueled Raptor engines would continue to be done at SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters. He said any confusion about SpaceX’s plans was due to “our miscommunication.”

If SpaceX follows through on Musk’s grand plan, Starship is destined to become the company’s primary transport vehicle for trips to and from the moon, Mars and other solar system destinations. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already signed up for a round-the-moon trip on the Starship in the 2023 time frame, and Musk wants to begin sending settlers to Mars in the mid-2020s.

The Super Heavy booster would be used to push the refuelable Starship out of Earth’s gravity well, and then it would fly itself back to its landing pad. Last month, Musk said in a tweet that Super Heavy hardware would “start getting built in spring.”

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