SpaceX Begins Construction for Starship Launchpad on Space Coast

As SpaceX continues preparations for an orbital test of Starship, Elon Musk tweeted that SpaceX is building a launchpad that can handle Starship at the legendary Launch Complex 39A.

Launch Complex 39A and 39B were originally used to launch the Apollo lunar landing missions in the 1960s and 1970s. They were later modified to support space shuttle missions. SpaceX currently leases 39A for its own rocket launches, including the Commercial Crew missions that send astronauts to the International Space Station.

The construction of a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast indicates that Musk is confident that it will work out, though. SpaceX recently reiterated its plans to use Starship to build a permanent, crewed Mars base. A report published by NASA employees indicates that there will be demand for a large rocket like Starship for sending larger scientific payloads to other worlds like Mars.

SpaceX had previously poured concrete to form the launchpad base for its biggest rocket in 2019. However, the project went dormant due to delays in development. In the interim, it rebranded the BFR to Starship, possibly due to jokes about what the acronym might stand for.

Internal emails that Elon Musk sent to SpaceX employees indicate that Starship-related development efforts may be putting a financial strain on SpaceX. In public comments, though, Elon Musk said that bankruptcy is “unlikely” though not impossible.

Both SpaceX and Tesla have been close to bankruptcy before. A previous April Fool’s joke on Elon Musk’s Twitter account showed a picture of Musk supposedly passed-out drunk with his head resting against an electric vehicle after a Tesla bankruptcy. Both companies were able to rebound, however.

Musk especially expressed concern about development of the Raptor rocket engine. It will take 39 Raptor engines to launch a Starship engine into orbit, compared to five rocket engines for the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

SpaceX’s VP of propulsion recently left the company, possibly highlighting Musk’s displeasure with progress on the Raptor engines.

Some of Musk’s frustration may have leaked over to Tesla. Another leaked email to Tesla employees warned them that they should execute his directions, ask for clarification, explain why Musk is wrong, or resign.

On the flip side, Musk has admitted that Tesla causes most of his “headaches” and he has sold billions of dollars’ worth of TSLA stock. Perhaps he plans to go all-in with SpaceX at some point?

Starship especially faced delays in important tests like the planned orbital flight due to regulatory red tape. The FAA is currently conducting an environmental review, which forced SpaceX to push back the planned launch from Boca Chica from summer 2021 to as early as January 2022.

Elon Musk especially expressed frustration with the FAA due to repeated regulatory pressure that put the brakes on Starship-related testing and development.

SpaceX aims to have as many as a dozen Starship launches in 2022. Meeting this goal will require both solving its issues with the Raptor engine and sorting things out with the FAA.