From Midland to Mars: SpaceX Sees a Future in Texas Oil and Gas

Fri, March 05, 2021

It looks like energy is entering the space age. This year, Elon Musk announced SpaceX, the private space exploration company, would join oil and gas operators in the Eagle Ford Basin.

In January, during a hearing with the Texas Railroad Commission, Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, CTO, and chief designer of SpaceX, revealed the company’s plans to extract methane from the ground to utilize “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”

Although production has not started, SpaceX plans to use super-chilled methane and liquified oxygen to fuel their Raptor engines, which flew for the first-time last year. According to Wired Magazine, the use of methane in their Raptor engines is innovative in itself because “methane… has a higher performance than other fuels, meaning the rocket can be smaller.” 

The company currently operates at Boca Chica, near Brownville, Texas – squarely within the Eagle Ford Basin and near the ports & terminals along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, there are currently plans to construct three liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals, within 5 miles of the launch site.

The news of SpaceX’s endeavor into drilling follows reports of Space X purchasing two decommissioned deepwater oil rigs right off the Texas Gulf Coast. In true SpaceX fashion, the company renamed the rigs Deimos and Phobos, after the two Martian moons. Musk hinted at the purchase of the rigs on his infamous twitter feed last summer, saying “SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth.”

In an interview for the Houston Chronicle, Sam Ximenes, founder and CEO of XArc, Ximenes laid out the synergies between Texas oil and natural gas infrastructure and space travel.

“Offshore platforms are very beneficial for mitigating launch and landing risk in areas of high population density and lessens disruption to aviation airspace operations,” he said.

Of course, the synergies between the space exploration and oil and gas industries aren’t surprising to many.  

John Saiz, Principal Industrial Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Former Chief Technology Officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, began his career in Houston in oil and gas, and used that technical expertise to move into aerospace. Saiz believes cross-pollination between energy and aerospace could prove beneficial: “I would say that there are a number of technical interdisciplinary innovations that I think will work both in energy and aerospace.”

Saiz isn’t the only NASA scientist applying aerospace technology to oil and gas. Houston Mechatronics, a company founded by former NASA roboticists, is incorporating intelligent automation and robotics into the energy industry. In 2020, Houston Mechatronics announced an agreement to provide their “Aquanaut” - a subsea robotic solution – to undertake inspection, repair, and maintenance operations within the Norwegian Oil & Gas market.

Texas has always been a leader in innovation. With Houston standing as the capital of both energy and space exploration, the sky’s the limit for our future industry. Through continued creativity and innovation, Texas oil and natural gas is going “to infinity and beyond.”