SpaceX's Giant Starship Booster Tower Is Rising in Texas

The giant launch towers could use colossal arms to 'catch' Starships.
Brad Bergan
A simulated launch of SpaceX's completed Starship.SpaceX / YouTube

New aerial photos depict SpaceX's rapid progress in building the first of two planned skyscraper-high Starship "launch towers" in southern Texas, according to initial posts on Twitter.

These towers are slated to "catch" the Super Heavy boosters out of the sky with colossal arms, once fully-assembled Starship rockets are space-worthy.

SpaceX's giant booster-catching launch tower is gigantic

CEO Elon Musk initially revealed his unconventional Starship booster recovery plan months ago, and upped his commitment to wildness three months later when he said the same booster-catching tower could also snatch Starships out of the air. When this was happening, SpaceX had started construction on one of two planned towers that saw the arms as optional. At the time, progress was signified only with a self-propelled drill and a couple of muck-filled holes.

However, SpaceX had already cleared away much of the dirt by mid-March, revealing a hefty foundation of roughly 25 piles — each 2 ft (1 m) thick — buried at least 100 ft (30 m) deep in the wet Texan sands. Subsequent peeks revealed the foundation had been encased in concrete, with a massive base almost ready for more concrete.

SpaceX's first South Texas Launch tower is finally rising, growing vertically out of the ground like a giant fortress tower. And this is on purpose: the tower is designed to provide an unspeakably strong base — so SpaceX can install Super Heavy boosters atop the launch mount, and then place Starships on top of the boosters.

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The launch tower site is less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, in Boca Chica. At sea level, the area has a strong wind, which only gets worse at high altitudes. Additionally, the South Texas coast is at constant risk of heavy and torrential rain, thunderstorms, and even hurricanes and flooding. Needless to say, there aren't many more difficult places to construct giant, sturdy towers to execute work as precision-intensive as vertically mating rocket stages.

SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster tests could start July 2021

Musk has said SpaceX's Boca Chica launch tower will feature a "hook height" — which is the distance from the crane hook to the ground) of at least 460 ft (140 m). Among other things, this means the tip of the tower's crane will probably be 490 to 520 ft (150 to 160 m) tall, once it's fully configured to mate the Super Heavy booster to Starship.

Perhaps, relatedly, details are vague about precisely how SpaceX plans to snatch incoming Super Heavy boosters out of the air. But SpaceX's aggressive attention to expanding Boca Chica's first orbital launch facilities hint at a great likelihood that we'll soon see a dauntingly megalithic structure capable of supporting Super Heavy and Starship tests.

The goal of SpaceX is to shoot for the first orbital launch of Super Heavy and Starship as early as July of this year. This sounds like it could be premature, but if the company — and its employees — work around the clock on the budding orbital launch site, it could happen, with or without Starship. If it feels like every subsequent year is the most interesting one for SpaceX, and thus an increasingly hard subject to ignore, we probably shouldn't.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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