SpaceX may have big manufacturing plans for the Port of Los Angeles

SpaceX has entered into preliminary negotiations with the Port of Los Angeles for a lease.

Share via

SpaceX has entered into preliminary negotiations with the Port of Los Angeles for a lease that would expand the Hawthorne space company’s port facilities to manufacture “large commercial transportation vehicles.”

Port and company officials would not comment on what exactly would be built on the 18-acre site on Terminal Island, but public documents suggest that it will involve rockets or spacecraft.

For the record:

8:50 a.m. March 20, 2018A previous version of this story listed the expected height for SpaceX’s BFR system as more than 500 feet tall. It is expected to be more than 340 feet tall.

SpaceX, which currently makes its rockets in Hawthorne, has plans to make a huge next-generation spaceship and rocket system known as BFR. The reusable spaceship and booster, which will measure more than 340 feet tall when stacked, is intended to eventually replace SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket and its new Falcon Heavy heavy-lift rocket, which flew for the first time last month.


The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, which oversees port management and operations, voted last week to approve California Environmental Quality Act regulations necessary for the board to later vote on a lease for the proposed project.

The project seeks a 10-year lease, with options for up to two 10-year lease extensions or renewals, and would involve construction and operation of a facility at Berth 240, according to the meeting agenda. The meeting documents stated that the facility needed to be close to the water because the finished vessels would be transported for testing and delivery via water “due to their size.”

In addition to “research and development of transportation vessels” and general manufacturing procedures such as welding, painting and assembly operations, the lease would also accommodate “recovery operations” undertaken by SpaceX “to bring to shore vehicles returning from space that are retrieved by an autonomous drone ship offshore.”

SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend confirmed in a statement Monday that the company was in preliminary discussions with the port about the “potential of leasing additional land for operations.”

SpaceX currently leases 8.1 acres at the Port of L.A.. The company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp., uses that space for recovery of its Dragon capsules and first-stage boosters, which arrive via droneships. SpaceX moves its rockets between facilities via trucks.

Christopher Cannon, director of environmental management for the Port of L.A., said during a presentation at Thursday’s Harbor Commissioners meeting that the proposed project’s site is located at the former Southwest Marine Shipyard.


First developed for shipbuilding in 1918 and acquired by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp. four years later, the shipyard churned out about 40 Navy destroyers and employed 6,000 people during the height of production during World War II, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.

None of the site’s historic buildings would be altered or used in the proposed project, Cannon said during the meeting. He noted that the site, which has been idle “for a long time,” has been used for filming. Construction would take 16 to 18 months and would include up to four above-ground storage tanks. Cannon did not elaborate on the use for the tanks.

Twitter: @smasunaga