SpaceX is developing Starship at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica Beach, located in the southernmost tip of Texas, where engineers have flown multiple spacecraft prototypes into altitudes under 20-kilometers. In the past three years, the facility has rapidly grown into a rocket factory with giant stainless-steel Starship prototypes, vehicle assembly buildings, and the first Super Heavy-class Starship orbital launch tower is near-completion. The 400-foot-tall launch tower is equipped with giant clamp-like arms, called ‘Mechazilla’, designed to stack the 160-foot-tall Starship atop the 230-foot-tall Super Heavy rocket. It will also ‘catch’ the stainless-steel vehicles as each descends to the launch mount soon after propelling the payload to orbit. Mechazilla will enable the company to recover the launch vehicle quickly to relaunch it in under an hour. Fast reusability will enable SpaceX to conduct cost-effective spaceflights. Starbase could have another orbital launch tower in 2022 to support back-to-back Starship operations, according to a graphic SpaceX submitted to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) document and a previous statement by company leaders (image below).
Starbase Boca Chica Texas Plans / Source: SpaceX FAA
On Friday, December 3, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that SpaceX will also build a Starship orbital launch tower at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex-39A. “Construction of Starship orbital launch pad at the Cape has begun,” Musk Tweeted. “39A is hallowed spaceflight ground – no place more deserving of a Starship launch pad! Will have similar, but improved, ground systems & tower to Starbase,” he shared in a follow up Tweet. SpaceX already had plans to build a Starship launch site at Florida’s Space Coast; It previously submitted a Starship launch site proposal to NASA in 2019, pictured below.
Construction of Starship orbital launch pad at the Cape has begun— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 3, 2021
39A is hallowed spaceflight ground – no place more deserving of a Starship launch pad!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 3, 2021
Will have similar, but improved, ground systems & tower to Starbase.
Launch Complex-39A has historic significance because it is the same location from where Apollo NASA astronauts lifted off atop the Saturn V rocket on a voyage to set foot on the lunar surface. Pad-39A also supported Space Shuttle missions up until its retirement in 2011. SpaceX is leasing the launch complex, it is from where Falcon 9 launches crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station. The company already has permission to make modifications at Pad-39A to support future Starship missions. A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center will likely support crewed missions to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program that aims to create a sustainable presence on our closest celestial neighbor. NASA selected SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2025. SpaceX is working on a tight schedule to have a space-ready launch system by then.
Launch Complex-39A SpaceX Starship 2019 Plans / Source: NASA
Musk previously said he is confident that Starship will successfully conduct an orbital flight in 2022. Engineers at the Starbase facility are working to prepare the prototypes that will conduct the first orbital flight test at Boca Chica. Stainless-steel prototypes Starship SN20 and Super Heavy Booster 4 are designed to test the launch system and provide engineers with vital data to improve the spacecraft. Musk says they target to conduct the orbital flight sometime in January or February. The company is still pending regulatory approval from the FAA. The Administration targets to complete an environmental assessment of Starbase by December 31st, to ensure safe spaceflight activities. Once complete, SpaceX will be able to apply for an orbital Starship flight license. You can watch SpaceX’s Starbase Launch Pad progress Live 24/7 in the video linked below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube.
VIDEO: SpaceX Starbase Launch Pad Livestream
Featured Image Source: SpaceX