Photo courtesy of ABL Space Systems.

The recent aerospace boom has come to the Port of Long Beach in the form of two new tenants that have arrived in the last year.

SpaceX—the Hawthorne-based company owned by Elon Musk—moved into a 6.5-acre property in May, and El Segundo-based ABL Space Systems followed suit by moving into a space directly adjacent to SpaceX in October.

The two new companies, though, aren’t the port’s first aerospace tenants.

The SpaceX site was formerly occupied by Sea Launch, a commercial satellite launch company that began calling Long Beach home when it was first founded in 1995. While it launched off of a floating spaceport in the Pacific, the company had facilities at the Port of Long Beach that served as its shoreside base of operations.

Currently, Sea Launch’s operations are on hold. The last launch occurred in 2014, and a Russian firm purchased the company four years later before moving its command ship and launch platform to the coast of Vladivostok, Russia, in 2020.

The departure left a hole at the port that officials, at the time, were not quite sure how to fill.

“When Sea Launch exited, the question was who was going to replace” it, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said. “Our answer has been moving to our future.”

As the first space companies to come to the port since Sea Launch’s arrival over 20 years ago, SpaceX and ABL Space Systems are opening up new opportunities, according to Cordero.

“For us, it’s not just about moving cargo,” Cordero said on a call. “It’s about moving information and how we create greater efficiencies [in] technology.”

And, of course, it’s about creating jobs.

“These companies are allowing us to keep talent and knowledge local,” said Nick Schultz, the deputy director of the Economic Development Department and the executive director of the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network.

An ABL Space Systems spokesperson said that the company is still scaling up operations at the facility and is expected to have about 50-60 employees at its Long Beach site when it is operating at full capacity. That number could change based on “evolving operational requirements,” according to the spokesperson.

What those jobs will entail, though, is unclear. ABL Space Systems uses its new Port of Long Beach facility for “a variety of operations, including maritime activities and a broad scope integration and operations,” the spokesperson said, but the company declined to expand further.

SpaceX representatives, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comment on the company’s Long Beach operations.

Cordero, though, is pleased with the new occupants. Increasing the range of operations at the port beyond the direct delivery of cargo, he said, has become a key part of the port’s plan to expand its workforce.

“Clearly, [the technology and space system sectors are] the future with regard to what it brings to the Port of Long Beach and the city of Long Beach, in terms of the diversification of the workforce,” Cordero said.

While there are no concrete plans to seek out new space tenants for the Port of Long Beach at this time, according to Cordero, Schultz says there are multiple companies in the industry “actively seeking a location in Long Beach.”

Port officials, though, are focused on fostering the relationship with SpaceX and ABL Space Systems, which Cordero said have blossomed since they moved in.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said, “that the relationship is going to expand in both instances.”

Editor’s Note: Nick Schultz was misnamed as Matt Schultz in a previous version of this article.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.