SpaceX Starship hardware mystery solved amid reports of Florida factory upheaval

On November 30th, SpaceX loaded several large pieces of Starship hardware on a new ship, likely headed to Boca Chica to become part of a new prototype. (Greg Scott)

A SpaceX Starship hardware mystery has been effectively solved after rocket parts arrived at Port Canaveral and were loaded aboard a transport ship, seemingly preparing for an unexpected journey by sea.

In an unexpected turn of events, SpaceX appears to be preparing to ship major Starship hardware from its Cocoa, Florida facility to a similar worksite in Boca Chica, Texas. Spotted for the first time in a photo taken by local photographer Greg Scott on November 30th, that hardware – at least two large stands and a nearly-complete steel tank dome – abruptly appeared beside SpaceX’s Port Canaveral dock space.

Seemingly within hours of their appearance, new vessel GO Discovery also arrived in Port Canaveral and parked by the same SpaceX docks. Shortly thereafter, workers loaded her with both build stands and a Starship tank dome and secured the surprise cargo. As it turns out, another local SpaceX-follower and prolific photographer/videographer happened to capture the disappearance of both stands and dome from SpaceX’s nearby Cocoa, FL Starship construction facility, where Starship Mk2 and Starship Mk4 were being built.

This neatly ties up the minor mystery of where that hardware went: SpaceX clearly moved all three parts to Port Canaveral, where they have since been loaded on a small supply ship. Two main questions remain, however: why have they been moved to the port and where are they headed?

The band is breaking up

Unfortunately, it appears that both questions can effectively be answered by a report published by YouTube channel “What about it?!”. According to former Cocoa employee that spoke to reporter and channel creator Felix Schlang, SpaceX has reportedly transferred up to 80% of the Starship facility’s workforce to other groups in Florida and Texas. Instead of the friendly internal competition that pitted Cocoa against Boca Chica in the race to first Starship flight, SpaceX is temporarily slowing down its Florida build operations and will redirect as much of its workforce and resources as possible to Boca Chica.

According to Schlang’s source, this will likely result in several months of relative downtime in Florida, while he was also told that Starship Mk2 and Mk4 are now effectively dead before arrival as a result of several challenging and reoccurring technical issues. Starship Mk2 likely shares some significant heritage with Starship Mk1, which lost its top during a pressure test. Roughly two-dozen steel Starship Mk4 rings may also be scrapped after SpaceX’s Florida team could not overcome a technical hurdle. Per the source, many of those single-weld steel rings were slightly different diameters, making it next to impossible to build a sound pressure vessel (i.e. Starship Mk4) with them.

(Felix Schlang)

Combining the appearance of Starship hardware on GO Discovery just yesterday and reports of major Cocoa layoffs, it’s all but certain that the Starship components on Discovery are going to head to Boca Chica, Texas. Schlang’s source also indicated that all affected employees were given the option to transfer to Boca Chica or Hawthorne, a prime indication that this abrupt change in plans is more a strategic move than a financial one. With any luck, most affected employees will be able to transfer to Florida pad operations or Boca Chica, although such a major and abrupt change is likely a no-go for anyone with major ties to South Florida.

The Starship dome and stands now likely headed for Boca Chica were built over the course of a month or two in Florida, meaning that they were either built under the impression that they would support Boca Chica’s Starship Mk3 prototype or repurposed after SpaceX decided to pause work in Cocoa. Of note, something like 8-12 of Starship Mk4’s steel rings were able to be stacked and all of those double-rings are still present at SpaceX Cocoa, while a number of single rings were indeed scrapped over the last few weeks. A header tank was also reportedly removed from Starship Mk2’s more or less finished nose section. If any of that hardware is technically viable, there’s a good chance that they may also be shipped to Texas to expedite Starship Mk3 integration.

Ultimately, given how rapidly SpaceX makes and changes decisions, pausing work in Cocoa doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s also far from the end of SpaceX’s Florida Starship-building efforts – Schlang indicates that SpaceX will instead focus on a similar facility located within Kennedy Space Center, making the process of building Starships offsite and transporting to Launch Pad 39A far more viable.

With this latest surprise, it also appears that SpaceX is now laser-focused on getting Starship Mk3 ready for South Texas flight testing. Stay tuned for an update on a flurry of recent developments at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship facilities.

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SpaceX Starship hardware mystery solved amid reports of Florida factory upheaval
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