WASHINGTON: NASA wants Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ensure that their plan to launch their next-generation Starship rocket from Florida would not jeopardize nearby launch infrastructure critical to the International Space Station, a senior said Space Agency official told Reuters.
The new hurdle further complicates and could potentially delay the launch schedule for the missile, which faces an already lengthy regulatory review of its primary launch site in Texas. Musk wants to show customers that Starship, which he sees as mankind’s route to Mars, can successfully reach orbit, a long-delayed crucial milestone in the rocket’s development.
SpaceX’s proposals to address NASA concerns, including a plan to be able to launch US astronauts from another launch pad in Florida, could be months away from receiving agency approval.
SpaceX last year accelerated construction of an orbital spacecraft launch pad at its Cape Canaveral, Fla., facilities as an alternative to the rocket’s primary test launch and development site in Boca Chica, Texas, which has undergone a lengthy regulatory review that will be completed next should week.
But one of SpaceX’s existing Florida facilities, called Launch Complex 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the coast of Cape Canaveral, is the only platform approved for launching the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. NASA relies on this spacecraft to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA officials have told SpaceX in recent months that a Starship explosion at Launch Complex 39A could effectively cut off the space agency’s only way of getting US astronauts to the International Space Station.
“We all know that an early failure like one of SpaceX’s early flights would be pretty devastating for 39A,” NASA space operations chief Kathy Lueders said in an interview about the agency’s talks with SpaceX.
SpaceX has not returned a request for comment.
SpaceX has already invested heavily in building a Starship pad a few hundred meters from the Pad 39A launch tower. It has responded by submitting to NASA a plan to equip its other Florida pad — Launch Complex 40, five miles away on Space Force grounds — with the means to launch US astronauts, according to one with the plans familiar person.
The company is also exploring ways to “harden” 39A, or make the launch pad more resilient, to both an explosive Starship accident and the immense forces emanating from a successful Starship launch, Lueders said.
Hardening Pad 39A and launching people from Pad 40 would both require regulatory approval.
“SpaceX is working with us on these things,” Lueders said. “Because it’s also in their best interest that their fairly stable revenue stream isn’t disrupted.”
Part of SpaceX’s challenge is to show that 39A will not be damaged by Starship’s novel liquid oxygen and methane fuel — a combination of propellants that NASA and US regulators are unfamiliar with.
“The problem is that the explosive potential of this combination is not known,” said Randy Repcheck, deputy manager at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which oversees launchpad safety.
Starship is a two-stage reusable rocket system designed to launch commercial satellites into Earth orbit and humans to the Moon and Mars. NASA last year selected SpaceX to use Starship for the first launch of US astronauts to the lunar surface since the days of the Apollo program.
The rocket’s next major test, a complex task to launch into orbit for the first time, was delayed in part by the regulatory environmental impact review of the Texas compound, which has blocked the FAA from granting SpaceX its orbital launch license.
The review, which is due to be completed on Monday, is expected to impose conditions on SpaceX that could delay the Starship program. That prospect prompted Musk to double down on construction of Starship’s launch pad at 39A in Florida at Cape Canaveral last year.
“We have the Cape alternative, and we actually applied for and received an environmental permit to launch from the Cape a few years ago,” Musk said at a Starship Update event in February, estimating it “takes six to six would take eight months to set up and launch from the launch tower at the Cape.”
Read Also :