SpaceX Leases Space in Port of Long Beach for Rocket Operations

SpaceX leases space in Port fo Long Beach
Rocket retrival barge after a recent launch - SpaceX photo (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Published Apr 28, 2021 7:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

Less than a year after canceling its second deal with the Port of Los Angeles, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is now planning to set up its West Coast operations at the Port of Long Beach. The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved a new sublease agreement effective May first with Space Explorations Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) to provide the company with a marine terminal for its West Coast rocket recovery operations.

SpaceX will occupy about 6.5 acres on the port’s Pier T, which was once the site of a U.S. Navy complex and for the past 20 years used by a commercial satellite launching company, Sea Launch. The satellite company vacated the space in February 2020 shortly before SpaceX canceled a deal with Los Angeles. The Port of Long Beach and the city’s mayor reported that SpaceX now plans to use the Long Beach facility to dock its vessels and offload equipment. The area includes a nearly 61,700-square-foot warehouse and office building, in addition to more than 62,000 square feet of paved land.

“This is a good fit for the port, as we offer the industry-leading facilities and services that are perfectly suited to SpaceX’s mission,” said Mario Cordero, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach. “I would like to commend our port team, especially our real estate division, for developing this agreement with SpaceX.”

SpaceX reportedly approached the Port of Long Beach a few months ago seeking a location for a scaled-down operation versus the previous agreements with the neighboring Port of Los Angeles. In April 2018, SpaceX and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an agreement to build an aerospace plant on Terminal Island for SpaceX’s planned inter-planetary rocket. That agreement was for a 30-year lease on 18 acres at the port's Berth 240, but it was canceled in January 2019. 

A year later, SpaceX proposed reviving the deal for a smaller 12-acre location at the Port of Los Angeles. For a second time, the space company canceled the deal with the Port of Los Angeles, this time with speculation centering on tensions between Elon Musk’s other companies and California. A spokesperson for a member of the Los Angeles City Council called the situation “frustrating.”

The new deal with the Port of Long Beach is only for two years and reportedly includes a clause permitting SpaceX to cancel with 90 days’ notice. Port officials, however, hinted that it could be the beginning of a longer and more comprehensive agreement for port facilities. It is unclear which operations SpaceX will base in the port as so far its rocket retrievals have been tied to the Atlantic Ocean and Port Canaveral near the Florida launch pad.

In announcing the SpaceX agreement, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia highlighted the growth of the space economy in the city. He said that with over 24 companies committed to aerospace manufacturing, engineering, and design in Long Beach, the industry has created over 6,500 direct jobs. In addition to SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, SpinLaunch, and other aerospace companies are located in Long Beach.