An aerial view of Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shows where SpaceX had previously started work on a Starship launchpad (bottom right corner), captured during a flyover by the Inspiration4 crew on Sept. 13, 2021.
John Kraus / Inspiration4
SpaceX has begun building a launchpad for its Starship rockets in Florida, CEO Elon Musk announced on Friday, as the company looks to add another location to launch the mammoth rocket that is in development.
“Construction of Starship orbital launch pad at the Cape has begun,” Musk said in a tweet.
Starship is the massive, next-generation rocket SpaceX is developing to launch cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.
A Starship prototype test fires its six Raptor rocket engines on November 12, 2021 in Boca Chica, Texas.
The company had previously started some work on a Starship-specific launchpad on the grounds of Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX leases from the agency to launch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. But, since builders have poured concrete for the foundation of the Starship pad in late 2019, the location has largely remained dormant.
NASA, in a statement to CNBC, confirmed that SpaceX is “within the rights of their lease agreement to make launch infrastructure improvements within the boundaries of the pad.” The agency also confirmed that NASA is not providing funding for the Starship launchpad, and deferred to SpaceX on the project’s scope, cost, and timeline.
The space agency performed an environmental assessment of the plan in 2019 and gave SpaceX permission to begin work within the LC-39A site. But the agency said that “approval is only to build at this time,” with authorization for launches and landings requiring a separate approval process.
Tom Engler, director of planning and development at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, told CNBC that he think the SpaceX plan is “really exciting.” Before the company leased the complex, it was previously used to launch Saturn V rockets for Apollo missions, as well as Space Shuttle missions.
“If you look at the history of the launchpad, this is probably right in line with how it was meant to be used,” Engler said. “To us, it’s really just kind of an reaffirmation of the thought process of why that pad was built to begin with.”
An image from NASA’s 2019 environmental assessment of the SpaceX proposal to add launchpad infrastructure for Starship to Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Musk’s tweet on Friday marks the renewal of work on the Florida launch site for the mammoth rocket, as he pushes SpaceX to perform as many as a dozen Starship test flights next year.
His construction announcement also comes as SpaceX works to resolve a “crisis” with production of the Raptor engines that power Starship rockets, which Musk disclosed in an email to employees the day after Thanksgiving. Musk’s email described a dire situation, warning of a “genuine risk of bankruptcy” for SpaceX if the company is not flying Starship rockets regularly by the end of 2022. In a brief update earlier this week, Musk tweeted that issues with the Raptor engines are “getting fixed” but did not provide more details on the problem or solution.