The Elon Musk-helmed firm detailed its plans in an environmental assessment prepared for the government space agency. The draft names NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A as the site of the super heavy-lift launch vehicle’s future missions.
Launch Complex Modifications
Launch Complex 39A is notably the same site that launched the Apollo 11 mission to the moon 50 years ago. SpaceX currently uses the pad to launch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy spacecraft. The newly released assessment outlines the company’s plans to develop new facilities for its Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster.
First, the private aerospace firm will construct an additional mount for Starship/Super Heavy at LC-39A. It will be adjacent to the existing mount that supports its Falcon vehicles. Furthermore, the company will build a liquid methane (LCH4) tank farm to house the methane fuel for the rocket and launch system’s Raptor engines.
SpaceX also reported that Starship’s upper stage would make return landings at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1. However, the company plans to install a pad close to the new LC-39A launch mount as a future Starship landing site. Meanwhile, the system’s first stage booster, Super Heavy, will land “downrange on a drone ship (converted barge), similar to the downrange landings of Falcon boosters,” the document stated.
Ruling out other Starship Launch Sites
The Hawthorne, California-based company ruled out two other possible launch locations before settling on the KSC launchpad. It considered using Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 as well as Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4. Ultimately, these two sites would require extensive modifications. Furthermore, the Vandenberg location won’t “support launch trajectories” for the “vast majority” of Starship missions.
SpaceX discussed the advantages of adapting LC-39A to support future Starship missions in a statement to SpaceNews.
“Designed by NASA to support the first human missions to the moon, Launch Complex 39A is one of the world’s most capable launch sites with the infrastructure to support a wide variety of mission profiles,” the company said. “As Starship development accelerates, SpaceX is working with our partners to continue upgrading LC-39A’s infrastructure to build upon past achievements and advance new capabilities in space.”
Looking toward a Lunar Liftoff
To date, SpaceX has made 18 trips to the International Space Station (ISS) under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Recently, its Dragon capsule delivered over 250 scientific experiments to the orbiting lab via its CRS-18 mission.
By comparison, Starship is a massive spaceship. The two-stage rocket stands 384 feet tall. SpaceX reportedly plans to launch the reusable vehicle 24 times a year from launchpad 39A. Like Dragon, it will make ISS cargo runs. Eventually, the rocket will carry people into space.
The firm plans to fly its first private passenger, Yusaku Maezawa, around the moon in Starship in 2023. The renowned fashion guru will make history by blasting off in SpaceX’s private lunar passenger maiden flight.
Furthermore, future Starship missions will play a pivotal role in the company’s lunar journeys. The corporation aims to support NASA’s Artemis mission to send humans to the moon by 2024 with the rocket.
“They’re moving very fast,” Dale Ketcham, vice president of government relations at Space Florida, told Reuters. “This is actually getting closer to what Elon got into this business for, to begin with. This is fundamental infrastructure to get to Mars, the early stages of it.”
SpaceX reportedly plans to use Starship to deliver satellites to Earth orbit, transport cargo and people to and from the ISS, and carry up to 100 people “on-long duration, interplanetary flights.” Currently, the corporation aims to send the rocket on its inaugural cargo mission to Mars in 2022.