Spaceflight Now took an aerial tour around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the days before the scheduled launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket. These images captured by Walter Scriptunas II show the the powerful moon rocket on its launch pad, plus SpaceX’s ongoing work to ready the spaceport for the huge commercial Starship rocket.
The 322-foot-tall (98-meter) Space Launch System moon rocket is standing on pad 39B at Kennedy awaiting liftoff on Artemis 1, carrying an unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a mission to orbit the moon and return to Earth. The test flight will pave the way for future astronaut flights to the moon.
Less than two miles to the south of pad 39B, SpaceX has leased Launch Complex 39A from NASA to support launches of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, including crew missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX is now building a launch tower for its next-generation Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket, a fully reusable vehicle that will eclipse even the giant SLS moon rocket in scale.
NASA and SpaceX envision the heavy-lift rockets — the two most powerful launchers ever built in the United States — to be based at neighboring launch pads through the coming decade. The Super Heavy and Starship rocket will combine to reach a height of nearly 400 feet (120 meters).
The aerial tour also caught glimpse of SpaceX’s work to build a Starship factory near the company’s Hangar X facility a few miles southwest of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy. Teams are currently outfitting articulating arms and two additional sections that will top off the Starship launch pad tower at Launch Complex 39A.
SpaceX began stacking the nine sections of the Starship launch pad gantry structure in June, a big step in the company’s construction of a second Starship base in Florida after one already built in South Texas.
The tower is already taller than the existing fixed service structure at pad 39A left over from the space shuttle program, and currently used to support Falcon 9 crew launches. Two more segments will be installed in the coming weeks to complete the structural assembly of the tower.
There’s more work to do after that, with completion of the launch mount, the addition of moveable arms to the tower, and work on other ground support infrastructure needed for the Starship program.
The photos also show Blue Origin’s rocket factory just outside the gates of the space center, and the rocket garden display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.