SpaceX has big plans for its next Starship rocket, which means we can expect equally gargantuan feats of engineering. Founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a video of the tower that will eventually throw and grab Starship vehicles. The tower, known as Mechazilla, lives up to its name.
Today, most SpaceX operations rely on the Falcon 9, a flight-tested rocket that can launch more than 30,000 pounds of cargo into low Earth orbit and then land safely for reuse. This capability made SpaceX the world’s largest satellite operator in just a few years as it began deploying its Starlink internet satellites. Launching satellites and resupplying the International Space Station, however, is just the beginning. With Starship, SpaceX could reach the moon, Mars, and even more distant places. First, it must be able to take off and maintain the low cost of the F9, then land in one piece afterward. This is where Mechazilla comes in.
The tower currently soars 400 feet (122 meters) above the landscape of Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the Starship. This vehicle consists of two parts. When you hear of Starship, it can mean the interplanetary ship or the “full stack” launch configuration with Starship and the Super Heavy first stage, which is essential for defeating Earth’s gravity.
Ship launch and capture tower pic.twitter.com/5mLIQwwu0k
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 9, 2022
Falcon 9’s first stage booster can just drop on a drone after sending the second stage on its way, but Starship and Super Heavy will need the Mechazilla Tower (which will likely get a more official name at some point). It has a pair of mechanical arms dubbed “wands” that will grab a returning rocket and guide it to the launch pad. We don’t yet know when the tower will be operational (wand testing only started this month), and the same goes for Starship itself. So far, SpaceX has passed a few top-to-bottom flight tests, but there have been no Super Heavy launches. SpaceX has stacked the components together, however.
Musk says the tower will be able to launch and grab a spaceship or the Super Heavy first stage. Although there’s only one tower right now (and it’s not even working yet), there could be identical towers in different locations, allowing Starship to launch from one location and to land in another. This would support the super-fast transport concept that SpaceX teased a few years ago, but it also comes with more risk. If a Falcon 9 booster fails to land, it’s probably at sea where there’s very little to hit. Starship will have to come ashore, and it’s a much bigger vehicle. Any accident could cause much more damage. It will be interesting to see how SpaceX moves forward with what is essentially science fiction.
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