Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A Little Update on SpaceX Starship at the KSC

I've been trying to keep up with progress at the Kennedy Space Center facilities that SpaceX is building and it's harder to keep track of than Texas.  I went over this is some detail back in April, pointing out with input from a friend who's a pilot and clips from the sectional air charts that while the KSC technically isn't completely a no-fly zone, it essentially is.  There's no such thing as flying over the bulk of the Kennedy Space Center without clearances to do so.  It's also harder for road traffic to get near the launch pads and there are no equivalents to the Lab Padre or NASA Spaceflight cameras fixed near the facilities and monitoring things. 

Consequently, we get by with what we can get.  There are people who photograph from small planes on carefully planned trips.  People like Greg Scott, Julia Bergeron, and Jack Beyer on Twitter, and NASA's flyovers, like this week's.  The first 6-1/2 minutes of that are the SpaceX facilities on Roberts Road and Pad 39A; the next 30 seconds or so is some goings on at Port Canaveral.  Most of the rest is video of Blue Origin's facilities. 

The headline that seems to be the news coming out of this video (released June 7) is that the beginnings of the crane expected to be used to build the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) have been spotted near the base of the Orbital Launch Mount. 

Image credit to Jack Beyer although the video that contains this frame is credited to Julia Bergeron.  

A few miles from that crane at Pad 39A, the sections of the OLIT are being built up.  

Image credit to Greg Scott.

There are six OLIT tower sections built up to varying degrees and the places marked for the rest of it in the area to the right of the five sections.  While the sections were built individually and successively at Boca Chica, and undoubtedly being revised along the way, it appears the approach is to build all of them at this facility and transport them all to the pad area at once.  

While the video was shot on June 3rd, Teslarati photographer Richard Angle said four days later that, “More parts of this crane were brought in this morning, including the cabin for the operator.”  Speculation is that the crane is the same Liebherr LR 11350 crane as used at Boca Chica.  Eric Ralph at Teslarati speculates that given the small number of those cranes in the world, it might end up being the exact same crane.  He points out:

Assembly of that crane began around April 2021 and took a month and a half, at which point it was finally ready to lift an extended boom long enough to assemble a tower almost 500 feet (~150 meters) tall.

The work on the tower sections isn't done by a long shot, so I wonder if the plan is to have the work on the tower and the crane completed at the same time.  

When the work at KSC began in December of  '21, someone said it would be at least a year before it was ready to use.  Considering that Starbase Boca Chica is regularly being updated, I wouldn't be surprised if that "at least a year" turned into "at least 18 months."  Whatever it works out to be, I'm looking forward to seeing a Starship and Super Heavy launch from here.


  1. I really think SpaceX is missing an opportunity here. Place web-cams everywhere and let the public have unfettered internet access to what's going on at the Cape.

    Or even just give access to a reasonable number and let them aggregate the useful video.

    The Cape has always been a weird place to work. My nephew was assigned as a mil-contact-overwatch for civilian work on the Cape for a while. Of course he won't/can't talk about what he was doing, and that right there is the issue. What's happening at SpaceX Roberts Road may be perfectly open, but 2 'blocks' down is secret squirrel stuff that 'nobody' can see.

    So we'll just have to continue watching 'open-source' Boca Chica and extrapolate with what we're 'allowed' to see at Cape facilities.

    Very excited to see how quickly things get built and modified and changed.

  2. "Thunder In The Skies"....coming soon to a Spaceport near YOU!

    1. Unless, of course, there are any scrub jays or gopher tortoises or indigo snakes nesting anywhere near Pad A.

  3. Sig, there are quite a few reasons the OLIT tower sections are being built all at once. Mostly, the major reason is speed of assembly - the workers have to vacate the area during a launch. With the current launch tempo at 39A that's a lot of windows/time that the area has to be cleared.

    Additionally, they learned a lot from the construction of the OLIT at Boca Chica which enables them to pre-build and install quite a few necessary "add-ons" before lifting a segment. MUCH easier to do when you are only 20 meters high. I expect this build to be a whole lot quicker now that they have the first one under their belt. Lessons learned. I wonder if the same construction crew will be used, and if this really is the Liebherr 11350 that was used at BC. If so, Franckencrane will RISE AGAIN!! All hail Kong! (NSA called it Frankencrane, Lab Padre Nerdle called it Kong...)