Remember Mechazilla, that tall launch tower at the SpaceX Starbase in Texas that will stack Starships and “catch” spent Super Heavy boosters? SpaceX began constructing an identical launch tower at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Starships will also be launching from soon. This tower is taking shape alongside SpaceX’s Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once complete, the launch tower will stand about 146 meters (~480 ft) in height, making it the second-tallest space-related structure on the East Coast, second to NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
Like the launch tower at Boca Chica, the assembly process is moving rapidly and could be finished in just a few months. However, the crews have adopted a different building strategy based on the lessons learned from Boca Chica. When assembling Mechazilla, the construction crews stacked all nine of the tower’s prefabricated sections before integrating all of its hardware (like the tower’s “T-Rex” robotic arms). While this approach allowed for rapid assembly, it also led to several months of additional, highly complicated work.
For the launch tower at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX is taking a different approach to minimize the disruption to the surrounding launch complex. SpaceX has been assembling and outfitting the first six of the nine prefabricated tower sections for the past three months before stacking them together. These sections are already equipped with almost everything they’ll need to catch and stack Starships, such as railings, elevator shafts, walkways, fuel lines, and other preinstalled components. SpaceX is also busy assembling the launch pad’s orbital launch mount, where Starships and Super Heavy boosters are placed between launches.
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The ground crews will still need to connect this hardware once the tower is assembled, but this post-stack work should take much less time. They are also making progress on the giant robotic arms (the two catching/lifting arms and the refueling arm) that will eventually be installed on the tower. The components for these “chopstick arms” are already arriving at the Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX will also need to install a new tank farm near the tower to accommodate its stores of liquid methane – the propellant used by the Starship and Super Heavy launch system – since LC-39A is not equipped for methane fueling.
A lot of work needs to be done before “Starbase Florida” is up and running, but they are making significant progress. In addition, the optimized process they are following for the launch tower’s construction will ensure that all the work around the launch pads will cause minimal disruption to their ongoing launch efforts – consisting of Falcon rockets regularly deploying new batches of Starlink satellites. As the busiest launch complex in the world, SpaceX also hopes to avoid disrupting NASA missions and other launch providers.
Further Reading: Teslarati