SpaceX Starship factory battles Texas power outages with Tesla solar and storage

SpaceX's South Texas Starship factory is pictured abuzz with activity on December 6th, 2020. (Richard Angle)

A major cold snap and the ineptitude of state governance have combined to throw millions of Texans into darkness as freezing temperatures sweep through the state.

At the southernmost fringes of Texas, SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship factory hasn’t been insulated from the chaos, though a large Tesla Solar and Energy installation has almost certainly lessened the blow. Highly cognizant of Boca Chica’s shortcomings for industrial-grade power needs, SpaceX installed that solar array and Tesla-made Powerpacks almost three years ago and substantially expanded it in 2020.

As a result, despite major issues posed by freezing weather and power grid instability, SpaceX has managed to keep the lights on and continue work at its Starship factory, while also slowly but surely preparing Starship serial number 10 (SN10) for its first static fire and high-altitude launch.

High winds and cold temperatures have prevented the company from making as much progress as it would like but “alert” notices distributed to Boca Chica Village residents on Tuesday evening suggest that SpaceX hopes to have Starship ready for a crucial static fire test as early as 9 am to 6 pm CST (UTC-6) on Wednesday, February 17th.

Weather and general Texas-wide industrial disruption are not working in SpaceX’s favor, though. Winds are forecast to remain high over the next week, making a launch attempt highly unlikely even if SpaceX is somehow able to thread the needle between gusts and fire up Starship SN10 before the weekend.

However, it could certainly be worse. The few local residents that remain in the Village have been subject to multi-hour power outages over the last 48 hours, a trend that inept Texas power grid manager ERCOT says could continue more or less indefinitely. SpaceX, meanwhile, is likely taking full advantage of the independent power generation and storage capabilities its Tesla installation provides.

A rough estimate suggests that SpaceX’s Boca Chica installation features a ~1.7-acre (~7000 m^2) solar array and 11 Powerpacks, likely offering up to ~1.5 MW of energy production and 2.5 MWh of storage. While that is a pittance in the face of SpaceX’s industrial needs, it’s likely more than enough to keep basic operations up and running and ensure that the residents of its growing ‘company town’ have power and running water.

SpaceX substantially upgraded its Tesla solar and storage capabilities in 2019 and 2020. (NASASpaceflight – Nomadd)

As of Tuesday, February 16th, SpaceX has yet to submit road closure plans with Cameron County, lowering the odds that Starship will actually be able to attempt its first triple-engine static fire test on Wednesday. SpaceX would not distribute ‘alerts’ to local residents if there wasn’t at least chance, though, so stay tuned for updates.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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