The second section of the Florida launch tower for SpaceX’s massive Super Heavy and Starship rocket was lifted atop the first tower segment Thursday at Kennedy Space Center, continuing construction on a structure that will be more than 400ft tall from above.
SpaceX moved the second metal tower segment — itself as tall as a five-story building — from a staging and construction site on Roberts Road, Kennedy Space Center facilities, to the launch 39A Wednesday evening. A large crane at pad 39A lifted the second section of the tower onto the lower segment on Thursday morning.
The first section of the orbital launch tower was deployed to pad 39A on June 15 and was placed on the tower’s foundation on Monday. Four more tower segments are visible on the Roberts Road property, where SpaceX fabricates individual sections of the Starship pad before moving them to pad 39A.
The Starship launch pad in Florida is expected to resemble the SpaceX tower built last year in Boca Chica Beach, Texas, where the company plans to launch the Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket on its first orbital test flight. The operational Super Heavy and Starship missions will likely be launched from Florida, according to statements by Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX.
The launch pad tower under construction at Pad 39A sits about 1,000 feet, or 300 meters, east of where SpaceX launches the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets carrying satellites and astronauts into orbit.
The time-lapse video below shows the stacking of the first tower segment on Monday next to the Starship launch pedestal at pad 39A.
Like the Texas launch site, SpaceX does not plan to dig a flame trench for the Starbase pad at Kennedy. The Super Heavy Booster, with approximately 33 methane-fueled Raptor engines, will blast off from the launch pad with approximately 17 million pounds of thrust, nearly double that of NASA’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, a fully expendable vehicle.
The Super Heavy and Starship stack – including the rocket’s first and second stages – will be fully reusable. The entire rocket is nearly 120 meters tall and is made of stainless steel.
NASA’s SLS rocket is about 98 meters tall in its current configuration. The first flight-ready Space Launch System is now at pad 39B, less than 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) north of pad 39A. The two pads at Launch Complex 39 were originally built for NASA’s Apollo Moon program.
Four more launch pad tower segments are currently visible outside SpaceX’s Roberts Road site, where the company is also building a Starship factory next to a hangar used to refurbish Falcon 9 rocket thrusters and fairings The Starship pad in Texas was stacked with nine tower segments.
SpaceX is expected to periodically move more tower segments to pad 39A over the next few weeks to complete structural construction of the Starship pad, where teams also moved propellant tanks and other support equipment. Once the tower structure is fully assembled, construction crews will add arms used to stack the spaceship onto the Super Heavy Booster.
The company says the arms will also be used to grab the 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Super Heavy booster as it returns to Earth for landing.
Equipment for the arms, or “wands”, was seen arriving at Kennedy Space Center last week.
The start of the Starship pad stacking in Florida came days after SpaceX cleared a key environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct Starship launches in Texas. SpaceX previously obtained environmental approval in 2019 for Starship launches from Pad 39A at Kennedy.
SpaceX also plans to build a second Starship launch pad in Florida at an undeveloped site in the northern part of Kennedy Space Center.
The Starship launch vehicle will be able to carry more than 100 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit, a region a few hundred miles above the planet, according to SpaceX.
SpaceX wants to use the Starship vehicle to launch the company’s Starlink internet satellites, flying heavier, next-generation versions of Broadband Relay Stations than the spacecraft currently launched by the smaller Falcon 9 rocket. A newly released animation by SpaceX showed the company’s concept for deploying Starlink satellites from an orbiting Starship vehicle, using a mechanism that functions like a giant Pez dispenser.
SpaceX also won a $2.9 billion contract with NASA to develop the Starship into a human lander for the agency’s Artemis lunar missions. A Starship lunar derivative, assisted by Starship refuellers, will be used for a lunar landing with astronauts, an event that NASA says could occur no earlier than 2025.
Ultimately, SpaceX plans to use the Starship for other missions, including transporting goods and people to Mars.
A video recap of the start of construction of the Starship Florida launch pad is shown below.
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