CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX has begun construction of a launch pad to blast its Starship rockets into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The aerospace company's CEO, billionaire Elon Musk, confirmed the construction work was getting underway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Merritt Island.
As CNBC explains, SpaceX currently leases the space from NASA for launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The site could one day launch SpaceX missions to Mars.
"SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket (collectively referred to as Starship) represent a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond," SpaceX writes on its website.
The company says Starship will become the world's most powerful launch vehicle, with the power to carry more than 100 metric tons into orbit.
Space Florida executive Dale Ketcham told the Orlando Sentinel that SpaceX has long considered the state to be a key operational location for its Starship, with development of the Cape launch site being in the works since 2019.
“As the program has evolved, SpaceX chose to focus initially on Boca Chica in Texas, but that was understandable and now the program is again turning its attention to the Cape,” Ketcham told the newspaper.
On Twitter, Musk described 39A as "hallowed spaceflight ground," adding that "no place" was "more deserving of a Starship launch pad."
A Kennedy Space Center spokesperson told 10 Tampa Bay that NASA had signed a property agreement with SpaceX in 2014 to develop Launch Complex 39A for commercial space flight.
"It’s within the rights of their lease agreement to make launch infrastructure improvements within the boundaries of the pad," the spokesperson wrote in an email.
NASA is not funding the SpaceX construction at the location. And, it was not immediately clear when the transformation would be finished.
"Approval is only to build at this time," NASA added. "Launching and landings will involve another approval process."
Whenever the construction is complete, Musk said the site would have a similar "but improved" tower and ground systems relative to Starbase in Texas. Last spring, after several tests, a Starship prototype finally stuck a landing without a fiery explosion in the Lone Star State.
If all stays on schedule, an initial orbital test launch could reportedly come as early as January or February 2022 – with a dozen more tests likely throughout the year. Non-human operational flights could arrive by 2023, the Sentinel explained.
As we reported earlier this year, SpaceX has been awarded the federal contract to carry astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time in about a half-century. That would be using a variation of its Starship rocket. The current launch target for that is 2025.