Second segment added to Starship launch tower at Kennedy Space Center

The second section of the Florida launch tower for SpaceX’s huge Super Heavy and Starship rocket was lifted on top of the first tower segment Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center, continuing construction of a structure that will stand more than 400 feet tall.

SpaceX transferred the second metal tower segment — itself as tall as a five-story building — from a staging and construction site at the company’s Roberts Road facility at the Kennedy Space Center to Launch Complex 39A Wednesday night. A large crane at pad 39A lifted the second tower section onto the lower segment Thursday morning.

The first section of the orbital launch tower rolled out to pad 39A on June 15, and was raised into position on the tower’s foundation Monday. Four more tower segments are visible at the Roberts Road property, where SpaceX is fabricating individual sections of the Starship pad before moving them to pad 39A.

The Starship launch pad in Florida is expected to resemble the tower SpaceX built last year at Boca Chica Beach in Texas, where the company plans to launch the Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket on its first orbital test flight. Operational Super Heavy and Starship missions will likely launch from Florida, according to statements from Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO.

The launch pad tower under construction at pad 39A sits about 1,000 feet, or 300 meters, east of the location where SpaceX launches 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 Monday next to the Starship launch pedestal at pad 39A.

Like the launch site in Texas, SpaceX does not plan to dig a flame trench for the Starbase pad at Kennedy. The Super Heavy booster, with roughly 33 methane-fueled Raptor engines, will take off from the launch mount with around 17 million pounds of thrust, nearly twice that of NASA’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, a fully expendable vehicle.

The Super Heavy and Starship stack — comprising the rocket’s first and second stages — will be fully reusable. The entire rocket stands nearly 400 feet (120 meters) tall, and is made of stainless steel.

NASA’s SLS rocket is about 322 feet (98 meters) tall in its current configuration. The first flight-ready Space Launch System is now standing at pad 39B, less than 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) north of pad 39A. Both 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 for refurbishment of Falcon 9 rocket boosters 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 coming weeks to complete the structural build-up of the Starship pad, where teams have also moved in propellant tanks and other support equipment. Once the tower’s structure is fully assembled, construction crews will add arms used for stacking of the Starship on top of the Super Heavy booster.

The company says the arms will also be used to catch the 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Super Heavy booster when it comes back to Earth for landing.

Hardware for the arms, or “chopsticks,” was observed arriving at the Kennedy Space Center last week.

A component for one of the “chopstick” arms for the Starship rocket’s Florida launch pad. Credit: Steven Young / Spaceflight Now

The start of stacking for the Starship pad in Florida came days after SpaceX cleared a key environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform Starship launches in Texas. SpaceX previously secured environmental approval in 2019 for Starship launches from Kennedy’s pad 39A.

SpaceX is also considering building a second Starship launch pad in Florida at an undeveloped site on the northern part of the Kennedy Space Center.

The Starship launcher will be able to haul more than 100 metric tons of cargo to 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 the broadband relay stations than the spacecraft now being launched by the smaller Falcon 9 rocket. An animation recently released from SpaceX showed the company’s concept for deploying Starlink satellites from a Starship vehicle in orbit, using a mechanism that works like a giant Pez dispenser.

SpaceX has also won a $2.9 billion contract with NASA to develop the Starship into a human-rated lander for the agency’s Artemis moon missions. A moon derivative of the Starship, assisted by Starship refueling tankers, will be utilized for a lunar landing with astronauts, an event NASA says could happen no earlier than 2025.

Ultimately, SpaceX foresees using the Starship for other missions, including ferrying cargo and people to Mars.

A video recap of the start of the Starship launch pad construction in Florida is posted below.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.