SpaceX begins stacking Florida Starship launch tower

SpaceX has begun stacking Starship’s first Florida launch tower.

Less than half a year after the company restarted work on a Starship launch pad located just a few hundred feet away from existing Falcon launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) LC-39A pad, a massive new launch tower has begun to take shape. Once it reaches its final height, that tower will become the second tallest rocket-related structure (excluding lightning towers) on the East Coast, only beaten by NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

It could reach that height far sooner than later.

For Starship’s Pad 39A facilities, SpaceX faces the unique challenge of organizing a major construction operation at one of the busiest and most important active launch sites in the US. In just the first half of 2022, LC-39A is on track to support 10 Falcon 9 launches, imposing unique constraints on adjacent Starship pad construction. In a partial response to those challenges, as previously discussed on Teslarati, SpaceX has taken lessons learned from Starbase, Texas and optimized the assembly process of a number of pad components to limit the amount of work that will need to be done at the pad itself.

For the first launch tower, SpaceX and its contractors moved exceptionally quickly and took just over three months after work on the first prefabricated section began to stack the structure to its full height of ~146 meters (~480 ft). Each of the nine sections was essentially bare, however, reducing the amount of pre-stack work but drastically complicating and increasing the amount of post-stack work required to turn the tower into something useful. For Florida’s first Starship launch tower, SpaceX has spent more than three months assembling and meticulously outfitting the first six of nine prefabricated tower sections before the first stack.

The sections SpaceX began stacking on June 21st already have a variety of railings, elevator shafts, doorways, walkways, hardpoints, plumbing, and more preinstalled. While each section and all abbreviated plumbing and hardware will need to be connected after each stack, that process should be far easier and faster than the methods SpaceX used in South Texas. Offsite, SpaceX is also making excellent progress assembing the pad’s donut-like orbital launch mount and parts of the three giant arms that will eventually attach to Starship’s first Florida launch tower – two for lifting and catching rockets and a third for stabilizing and fueling Starship.

Much like the tower segments, there’s a good chance that those other Floridan components will be closer to completion than their Texas siblings were when they eventually head to the launch pad for installation. Additionally, if SpaceX’s experience in Texas is representative, Starship’s first Florida launch tower could reach its full height just a few months from now.

For the tower to be truly complete, SpaceX will need to finish and install three arms, and connect one of those arms to ground supplies of Starship gases and propellant located at Pad 39A. Because 39A has never needed methane, Starship’s fuel of choice, that step will also require the installation and activation of a new tank farm and plumbing capable of storing, rapidly ‘subcooling,’ and distributing at least a thousand tons (~2.2M lb) of liquid methane (LCH4). Starbase Florida is making great progress but a large amount of work still stands between SpaceX and launch readiness.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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