The Hawthorne-based company is assembling the pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, according to tweets from Elon Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive.
“Construction of Starship orbital launch pad at the Cape has begun,” Musk tweeted Dec. 3. “39A is hallowed spaceflight ground — no place more deserving of a Starship launch pad! Will have similar, but improved, ground systems & tower to Starbase.”
The construction comes as an internal email from the company showed Musk’s growing concern about the slow progress of the Raptor engines, which will propel the Starship rocket.
Musk told staffers in a November email obtained by CNBC that the “Raptor production crisis is much worse than it seemed a few weeks ago.”
“We face genuine risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship flight rate of at least once every two weeks next year,” Musk wrote.
The crisis apparently interrupted Musk’s Thanksgiving holiday as he noted in the message that while he planned to enjoy the holiday, he instead worked on the engine production line on Friday night and into the weekend.
“We need all hands on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster,” Musk wrote.
SpaceX leased pad 39A from NASA in 2014. It currently launches most of its Apollo missions and its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets at that location, but its upcoming Starship project needs updated technology to carry cargo to the moon and Mars.
Even though there have been hiccups on the path to the red planet, the company has seen success in 2021 with its Falcon rocket missions, sending up its 27th Falcon launch of the year Dec. 2, breaking its record of 26 Falcon rockets launched in 2020. The most recent rocket carried 48 Starlink internet satellites and two BlackSky optical Earth-imaging spacecraft into orbit.
While SpaceX has leaped ahead of competitors when it comes to launch services, other companies such as Long Beach-based Rocket Lab USA Inc. are angling to challenge Musk’s dominance in the industry. Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive, revealed Dec. 2 that his company’s forthcoming Neutron rocket will use seven of Rocket Lab’s Archimedes engines, which will be test-fired starting in 2022.
Beck did not supply an updated timeline for the initial Neutron launch, the target was initially set at 2024. In a video, the company took a swipe at SpaceX’s technology when it noted that the Neutron rocket will return to land at its launch site rather than on “a barge,” which called out SpaceX’s drone ship landing pads.
At the moment, Rocket Lab is not a direct SpaceX competitor. It has only launched its Electron rocket, a ship designed to propel small satellites. However, the Neutron will allow the company to get larger satellites into space and move into human spaceflight and interplanetary endeavors.
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