SpaceX has slowly but surely begun the process of building Starship’s first Florida launch pad – including preparations for the off-site assembly of a second skyscraper-sized ‘launch tower.’
This is not the first time. Back in late 2019, SpaceX began work on a Starship launch pad located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) LC-39A pad, which the company already leased for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. By the end of the year, some of the framework of the Starship launch mount was already visible and parts of a giant water-cooled thrust diverter arrived in early 2020. However, work on the pad effectively halted around the same time and entered a state of limbo as SpaceX redirected all of its Starship program on South Texas.
Only two years later did activity finally return. Musk revealed the restart on December 3rd, 2021 and within a matter of weeks, the remnants of the old Starship launch pad – now outdated – had been scrapped and removed, returning the site to a more or less blank slate. Since then, save for occasional long-distance aerial views, it’s been almost impossible to document progress but views from SpaceX webcasts of Falcon 9 launches out of Pad 39A have shown that the company is mostly focused on preparing foundations. However, in early February 2022, a flyover of a different SpaceX KSC facility revealed the first clear signs of preparation for pad hardware assembly.
While unassuming, the small sets of square foundations recently constructed at SpaceX’s new Roberts Road Falcon storage, refurbishment, and processing center are virtually identical to the foundations where contractors assembled the first Starship launch tower in South Texas. Each completed section – measuring about 12m (40 ft) long and wide and 18m (60 ft) tall – was then transported a few miles by road to the launch site, where a crane would stack them.
Roberts Road happens to be located about seven miles (11 km) away from Pad 39A, with a single paved, well-maintained road optimized for wide and tall loads standing between them. It’s clear, in other words, that SpaceX will build Pad 39A’s Starship launch tower at its Roberts Road facility and transport the sections to the pad for assembly. More likely than not, to avoid the regular disruption of Falcon launches, SpaceX will do the same with virtually all transportable pad hardware, including the tower arms and launch mount.
In fact, SpaceX has only developed about a third of the land it leased at Roberts Road. Just last month, development plans indicating that SpaceX intends to build two immense warehouse-like buildings to fill out the rest of the site were published by a local water agency. Based on their footprints, they would collectively have more covered floor space than the entirety of the South Texas ‘Starbase’ factory where all Starships are currently built. During a February 10th, 2022 update presentation, CEO Elon Musk confirmed that SpaceX will build and launch Starships out of Florida, all but guaranteeing that the new facility will be a massive new Starship factory.
In the last week, satellite imagery indicates that SpaceX has begun to level the unfinished portion of Roberts Road, likely paving the way for the start of foundation work in the near future. All things considered, it remains to be seen if SpaceX will truly replicate Starbase, Boca Chica at Kennedy Space Center or – much like how the company systematically upgrades its rockets – if the new Starship factory will represent a block upgrade with a wide range of improvements and refinements. Regardless, it won’t be long before Starbase East and the first of several East Coast Starship launch towers begin to take shape.