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SpaceX scraps its plan to build Mars spaceship at Port of L.A. — again

Samantha Masunaga
SpaceX has backed away from plans to build its Mars spaceship at a site in the Port of Los Angeles. Above, a prototype of the company's Starship Mk1.  (SpaceX)

Two years ago, SpaceX created excitement when it proposed building its Mars spaceship and rocket booster at a vacant site at the Port of Los Angeles.

The company got political backing for the plan, local officials touted it as a win for Southern California manufacturing, and the project got the green light.

Then SpaceX changed its mind and withdrew from the agreement.

This year, SpaceX came back around and pitched the idea again, seeking permission to use the same site for the same project. It could create 130 local aerospace jobs and start work quickly, the company said.

But just a month after getting the green light from city and port officials, SpaceX decided against it — again.

In a letter dated March 27, a SpaceX official gave the Port of L.A. notice of the Elon Musk-led company's intent to terminate the permit agreement. The date of termination was May 11, according to the letter, which was provided to The Times.

In the letter, SpaceX did not explain why it was ending the agreement. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter came about a month after SpaceX got approval from the L.A. City Council and the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners to use a site on Terminal Island to build aerospace parts. The initial permit cleared the company to use 12.4 acres to make aerospace parts, with an option to expand its presence to 19 acres.

Company representatives had told Councilman Joe Buscaino's office that SpaceX wanted to use the site for additional manufacturing capacity for its Starship Mars spaceship.

Buscaino "did extraordinary things to accommodate their sense of urgency," said Branimir Kvartuc, communications director and senior advisor for the councilman's office. "This is our second go-round.... It’s frustrating.”

In 2018, SpaceX said it would build its Mars rocket and spaceship at the Port of L.A. and got all necessary approvals. Then the company changed its mind, terminated the agreement and said it would build and test Starship prototypes in Texas.

The company is "committed to continuing" its other operations in California, including its Hawthorne headquarters, launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc and a different site at the port it uses for recovery of its first-stage rocket boosters and Dragon spacecraft, according to the March letter.

But Musk hasn't always felt that way about the operations of his other company, Tesla Inc.

Days before SpaceX sent its letter pulling out of the port site, Tesla began a temporary shutdown of its Fremont auto plant — a culmination of its battle to keep the factory open despite orders from Alameda County that were aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, Musk threatened to move Tesla's headquarters from California to Nevada or Texas over coronavirus-related restrictions.