SpaceX is building a towering new deck at Kennedy Space Center Complex 39A to launch the 394-foot Super Heavy-Starship rocket, but NASA said Thursday it would not grant a flight license until it assessed potential threats to a nearby spacecraft. used to send astronauts to the space station.
The new base and launch pad are about 1,000 feet from NASA’s original 39A launch base, now leased by SpaceX, where Falcon 9 rockets are launched to transport cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.
Reuters reported last week that NASA executives were concerned about the possibility of catastrophic damage to or just above the new Starship cushion that could severely damage Falcon 9 launch infrastructure by disrupting SpaceX astronaut flights to the space station in its capsules. Crew Dragon.
“We all recognize that if you had an early failure as we did on one of the first SpaceX flights, it would have been devastating for the 39As,” Kathy Lunders, NASA’s head of space operations, told Reuters.
He was apparently referring to a cushion explosion in 2016 that destroyed a Falcon 9 and the payload of its communications satellite, causing severe damage to the launch pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Power Station.
Super Heavy-Starship takes this threat to a different level.
Breaking the scales to about 11 million pounds, the next-generation fully reusable rocket will be the largest, most powerful launcher ever built, producing 16 million pounds of propulsion during launch – twice that of the NAS spacecraft’s space rocket. 33 methane-burning Raptor engines.
The 160-foot-high Starship, which will carry astronauts, cargo or both, will be powered by six Raptors. A variant of the upper stage is being developed under NASA’s $ 2.9 billion contract to serve as the initial moon landing in the organization’s Artemis program.
SpaceX repaired and upgraded the launch pad 40 after the 2016 crash and is operating a third Falcon 9 background at Vandenberg Space Base in California. But none of these facilities are equipped to launch Crew Dragon astronaut ships.
The Boeing Starliner capsule, which will be launched from a pillow ready for the crew at the Cape Canaveral Space Station, is not yet certified for operational use, and NASA considers the 39A composite critical to the space station’s ongoing operations.
Answering a question from CBS News, NASA confirmed the Reuters story, saying that on Thursday SpaceX does not yet have a launch permit from the 39A complex.
“In the coming weeks, NASA and SpaceX will conduct a thorough review to ensure safe operation of the cushion and assess unnecessary launch possibilities for NASA crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station,” NASA said in a statement.
“As part of the review, NASA and SpaceX are evaluating all available options, including the development of a crew capacity at Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida.”
The Pad 40 does not have a frame at the moment and SpaceX will have to make extensive modifications and upgrades to add access to a Dragon Crew over a Falcon 9, to allow last minute loading and emergency escape .
As for the Super Heavy-Starship, SpaceX has already built a cushion in Boca Chica, Texas, where the company plans to begin orbital flight tests soon. It is in the process of building a second Starship cushion at 39A, stacking huge sections of open mesh on top of each other using a huge crane.
The first of eight crane sections was moved to the complex last week and a second was attached early Thursday.
A NASA statement said the agency “is responsible for ensuring that SpaceX complies with the requirements of the ownership agreement for the use of Launch Complex 39A”.
“These requirements include those related to construction, safety and environmental conditions,” the statement said. “Currently, NASA has only provided approval for construction. Additional revisions will be required for hazards, operational implications, and pre-launch support capabilities.”
And as with all launches from US soil, SpaceX will need a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.
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