A significant construction effort has begun in Florida to create a home port for Starship on the East Coast. With a launch facility at the historic 39A, potentially followed by pads at LC-49, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is likely to become the flagship launch site for Starship in the coming years, supplemented by Starbase in Texas and ocean launch platforms.
The most visually impressive element of Starship Florida is Roberts Road, with a vast area cleared to construct a production facility akin to the Build Site at Starbase.
Florida is no newcomer to Starship. A facility at Cidco Road in Cocoa was running parallel to Starbase when Elon Musk conducted his first overview in the shadow of the Mk1 prototype back in 2019.
The Cocoa facility was already working on the Mk2 vehicle, with Musk intimating competition between the two teams to refine their assembly processes.
With the addition of new assembly buildings at Cidco Road, SpaceX would never likely abandon the facility when Starship production was consolidated to Texas.
It has since become the focal point for Thermal Protection System (TPS) tile production – at least the materials, ahead of being combined at “The Bakery” – with activity seen on-site during the recent flyover video via Stephen Marr and Julia Bergeron for NASASpaceflight. Ironically, the final remains of the Mk2 can still be seen on the grounds.
During the flyover, the latest views of SpaceX’s other Florida facility provided the biggest clue to the company’s East Coast ambitions.
Within eyeshot of the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Roberts Road is already being used as a new storage and maintenance facility for Falcon boosters, known as Hangar X.
Notably, that facility is being extended, adding capacity to what is now a fleet of flight-proven boosters or potentially utilized to cater for fairing and Dragon refurbishment.
However, a far more impressive facility will soon rise out of the ground alongside Hangar X, with a considerable area of land cleared for what will be Florida’s version of Starbase’s production facility.
Foundations are already being worked on ahead of construction, with SpaceX’s plans that include a 320,000 square feet building. In addition, a loading dock is already being prepared for concrete pouring.
Already observable are other Starship-related items, such as a circular structure that appears to match the 9-meter diameter of Starship.
While less visually obvious, 12 concrete pads have also been observed, which – thanks to Starbase – can be confidentially identified as the site of where the Launch Tower will be assembled.
Like Starbase, the Launch Tower will be prefabricated in sections before rolling out to the launch site and assembled by a crane. The pre-fabrication work will occur at Roberts Road before heading to KSC and rolling up the crawlerway path into 39A.
With work restarted at 39A – including the dismantling of the old launch mount – the rise of the new tower is expected to take place this year. It should be a near-mirror to the Starbase Orbital Launch Site Tower, with its Mechazilla/Chopsticks stack and catch system, albeit with some refinements, as Musk intimated on Twitter.
The sum total of current status adds more weight to Musk’s KSC ambitions, as outlined in the recent update presentation.
“Starbase, I think, is more suited to become our advanced R&D location, so it’s where we would try out new designs and new versions of the rocket, and I think Cape Kennedy would be our main operational launch site,” Musk noted.
Cape Kennedy would not be restricted to 39A, with SpaceX and NASA currently working on assessing the potential of a site at LC-49 to the north of Complex 39.
While the wait continues for the FAA to sift through the 19,000 responses to its study, Starbase continues to juggle its current and upcoming vehicles, ironically leading to a collection of stored vehicles at the South Texas site.
Ship 22 was recently fully assembled, with the mating of its nosecone inside the High Bay, only for the vehicle to be rolled down Remedios Avenue to the storage area that has become an almost-accidental “Rocket Garden.”
Along with various Test Tanks and stands, Booster 5, the flown SN15, and Ship 16 now have Ship 22 keeping them company. This was never the plan, resulting in Musk approving the donation of a prototype to the local airport for display.
Ship 20 underwent at least two cryo-proof cycles, while Booster 4 later joined the frosty party. Additional testing on Ship 20 is taking place during the planned roadblock on Tuesday.
These tests are beneficial for vehicle data and the Ground Support Equipment (GSE), such as the Orbital Launch Site tank farm.
Back at the Production Site, the latest status – taking into account Ship 22’s move – sees Booster 7 and Booster 8 in various stages of preparation, while Ship 24 will be the next Starship to be assembled.
However, sections for additional vehicles will be deep into production, hidden away inside the large production tents at the build site.
Numerous nosecones can often be seen taking a peek at the outside world, while deliveries provide clues to the production cadence and future advances in the assembly of the vehicles.
The latest arrival included the new design of the Methane Transfer Tube, relating to the change of location for the Liquid Oxygen header tank on the boosters.
While Booster 5 had a header tank on the side for landing burn, this is being phased by a coaxial tank design where the header tank surrounds the methane transfer tube. The ship header tanks will be in the nosecone, not anywhere close to the transfer tubes.
Notably, while new iterations of design have been commonplace throughout the history of Starbase, it now places into Musk’s reference to the site’s use as for “R&D” and testing.
It will, however, still be a major launch site for the vehicle, pending regulatory approval, requiring a high launch cadence, served not only by two Launch Towers but also a busy production site.
While the second tower is not expected to begin construction until the FAA and Environmental Studies are finalized, clues into the production cadence projections can be seen on the Boca Chica skyline.
With the build site initially gaining a Wind Break, before a Mid Bay was constructed, an impressive High Bay was soon added to cater for Super Heavy booster assembly. This is now being joined by a “Wide Bay,” twice the width and slightly higher than its neighbor.
With prefabricated wall sections being added several times a day, this new facility is now up to its final level, ahead of the roof being added. Along with the current High Bay, the Production Site will cater to multiple parallel booster and Ship flows.
Along with the future facility at Roberts Road, the claims of vast amounts of rapidly reusable rockets being required to make life multi-planetary are becoming more realistic by the day, as the addition of more facility space eases the bottleneck of production.
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