SpaceX FAA Filing for 40 Story Tower to Launch and Catch Super Heavy Rocket

SpaceX filed with the FAA to build a 469 ft tall steel launch tower for its Starship rocket in Texas and it will catch the super-heavy booster when landing.

35 thoughts on “SpaceX FAA Filing for 40 Story Tower to Launch and Catch Super Heavy Rocket”

  1. If a controlled welding environment is desired, an enclosed section of scaffolding could be raised/lowered around the rocket to provide that.

    And why use a gantry crane to bring new SuperHeavies to launch towers, when you could combine an assembly site with a launch site and fly a finished SH to its new home, testing it out in the process? Especially if building on-shore vs generally launching/landing at off-shore rigs, which would require a barge in addition to the gantry crane.

  2. This is genius. If the booster has fuel for a hover, it can sidle up to the tower drop a line, and get hauled in like the Beartrap. I love it!

  3. meh. risk tolerance is a fluid thing. risk tolerance for testing. risk tolerance for common cargo. risk tolerance for valuable cargo. risk tolerance for alpha pilots. risk tolerance for early adopters. risk tolerance for experience-seeking rich. All disposable – no loss sufficient to close the program. Joe and the family won't be doing their summer orbit trip for generations. More likely we'll have a partial space elevator by then — partial in the sense of having the occupiable section to 10,000s of feet and tensile/ bouyancy beyond. Obsessing of the Scariness of the early parts of this program is navel-gazing.

  4. oooh. tight window to coordinate local craft and at what elevation do they engage – with a downward velocity exceeding 100s fps.

  5. Most likely it won't get hit.
    Falcon 9 landings are very precise, they have a lot of experience with that and still plenty of time to refine Starship landings,….

  6. Again, where's your time machine? The final version of Starship hasn't even been built yet. What you're doing is like judging a piece of software by an early alpha build. That's not how it works. It would be a bad thing if they found no problems this early on. That would indicate that testing isn't capturing edge cases.

    Let me say that again: this early on, it would be WORSE if nothing bad happened in testing. That would be a worse sign for the reliability of Starship.

    As an example, would you want to drive in a car that's never been crash tested?

  7. No, they're still going to want an enclosed assembly building for building them.

    Welding outdoors was fine for an experimental program, but when they're trying to wring out that last bit of reliability, they're going to need a controlled environment, and the ability to work regardless of the weather.

    As I envision it, you'd have multiple launch towers with landing capability for the Superheavy. The used boosters would come down *near* them over a designated crash site, then hover over to hang themselves on the tower. Then be lowered onto a stand.

    The gantry crane would handle bringing new Superheavies to the launch towers, or back to the assembly bay for major service, and could carry integrated Starships to the launch tower and stack them.

    Using the tower as a lift to stack them implies carrying them around using a transporter, which is a slow business. The gantry crane can achieve higher speeds.

    Aside from the catching arms, it's all standard crane operations, the sort of thing you could outsource and get competing bids on.

  8. Should be possible to have a set of aerial tugs to assist in landing. Drones (directed thrust not just rotors) that capture and mitigate motion/ guidance when in the last few thousand feet of descent (assuming the craft can be decelerated and effectively hover/control-descend, momentarily) – just my 2c.

  9. In order to re-launch frequently, SpaceX will want to be able to service SuperHeavy on site instead of moving the SuperHeavy to a special off-site building. This likely implies having a number of relatively small 'mobile assembly/service shops' (MASSes) that can roll up to towers as needed.

    If the 'launch/catch tower' isn't too expensive, have one per active SuperHeavy, to keep it safe from wind and storms. A tower could also serve as an assembly building – stacking ring sections on or next to the pad instead of trying to roll intact rockets from a separate assembly building.

    If SuperHeavy eventually becomes super-reliable, it might be possible to have several launch/catch towers share a single pad, with towers protecting their rockets while another rocket launches/lands. Assembly would then be done at a dedicated tower away from active operations that would interfere with the construction schedule. From there a new SuperHeavy would 'hop' over to land at a prepared 'home' tower.

  10. No need for snark.

    No time machine needed either. Just the test record.

    It can't predict the future, though, but it gives hints.

  11. I believe the grid fins on Falcon 9 are titanium, aren't they? I believe titanium is non-magnetic.

    If the super heavy boost also uses titanium grid fins, I think that using magnets as you suggest would not work at all.

    Do we know what material will be used for the grid fins on the super heavy booster?

  12. It would be interested to have large magnets on the arms to "soften" the land even more. Upward magnetic force to the grid fins a few meters before it touches down.

  13. The dry mass of a super heavy is not that much. Maybe about 150-180 tons, since SS is supposed to be like 85 tons.

  14. Exactly. How much the propellant? The wet mass on launch of the whole system is like 5k tons or so.

  15. Interesting that the proposed solutions are not that exotic; reminds me of an Erector Set. Though the strength of modern materials and the precision of contemporary engineering are still a bit amazing to me.

  16. Indeed, because it IS going to get hit occasionally. Especially at first.

    Though I think I heard that the booster was intended to come down a little ways away from the tower, and then do a horizontal hover over to it, so that if anything crashes, it will be away from the tower.

  17. I hope SpaceX can leverage the technology of aircraft carriers' arrestor cables. It's a well-understood problem b/c the Navy has been landing aircraft (some quite big) on ships for a hundred years. Just not vertically…

  18. The thing is, the booster isn't doing anything particularly different from what the Falcon booster is, and they are building a long track record of landing those within a few feet of where they're aiming. And the SuperHeavy will have an advantage over Falcon, in that it doesn't have to hoover slam, it can shut down enough engines to be able to throttle down to 1 g or less thrust.

    So it really does look like the booster development should be easy, IF they get the engine problems resolved.

  19. I hope Super-heavy proves to be more reliable than Starship on return, or it will be difficult to justify the expense. A rocket RUD'ing over the tower won't be good and not just for the paint.

    Musk doesn't seem completely convinced they could manage to make the flip and burn maneuver with Starship very reliable either, given he's thinking about launching it to space regardless of what the state of such maneuver is.

    There is no greater teacher than experience, though, and I have confidence they will get the hang of it eventually. But rockets are what they are, and even if they achieve a successful return 99% of the time, that's still too much risk for expecting to have some structure catching the rocket on return.

  20. the rocket itself will be fairly light, depleted of most of the propellant, it will also always be unmanned as it's only the booster.

  21. I will tip my cap to the space cowboys who do the first no parachute-no landing legs-caught by a tower return to earth. While they will just be passengers, that will take some courage.

  22. Easier to understand a structure like these that has cables that could be hooked and have variable travel kinda like aircraft carrier tail hooks and arresters.

  23. But aren't the superheavy rockets super heavy?
    It does make sense to transfer some of the rocket weight to a ground unit. Less to propel. But what if those top flanges get damaged? Can it still land?

    Also it seems to me it would be better to have one tower for launching and another for landing. You don't need the grabbers for launching.

  24. If this is the same tower that's going to launch it, they're going to need a gantry crane running between the assembly building and the tower.

    That would, IMO, be the most efficient way to move around and stack the starship and booster.

    A moving platform can only move, it can't stack, so they need the crane anyway. Might as well have it do all the work.

    Also, gantry cranes are standard industrial equipment. Transporters capable of moving rockets the size of office buildings are totally custom. So the gantry crane will be more economical.

    Finally, because the gantry crane has two towers, rising on either side of the rocket, it can incorporate stabilizer arms at various heights, so the rocket can be moved more quickly. A transporter like they used for the Saturn V has to move at a dead crawl to avoid the rocket toppling over.

    Another advantage is that the gantry crane can incorporate the boarding tower, the launch tower can have minimal equipment needed for launch and catching. This way you can move a lot of expensive stuff away from the launch tower before the rocket lands, since landings stand a significant chance of actually hitting the tower.

    I'll draw something feasible up at lunch. Aside from the catcher arms, this is actually a very straightforward engineering job, any large gantry crane company would be willing to bid on it. For instance:

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