SpaceX Confirms Booster Tower Catch Attempt on Return from First Orbital Flight

SpaceX has confirmed that they will try to catch the Super Heavy Booster on the landing of its first test flight.

The Starship and Mechazilla progress in on top of a massive increase in SpaceX Falcon 9 launches. SpaceX launched six Falcon 9 over a 17 day period in July SpaceX might be able to sustain 6 launches per month for the remaining five months of 2022 to reach 63 launches. If SpaceX could sustain a launch every three days they would be able to launch 120 times in a year. This might be a level possible in 2023 with just Falcon 9. Transitioning to Starship and Mechazilla launch tower is a path to daily and multiple launches per day.

The Mechazilla launch tower in a 480 foot tall stationary robot with massive moving chopstick arms. the arms present a landing target about the size of the drone ships that SpaceX has been using for Falcon 9 booster landings.

I made a video explaining why catching boosters for immediate refueling and relaunch will lead to hourly rocket flights down from about once every 30 days for the fastest SpaceX reflights. This will enable 500-1000 times as many reflights. Combined with full rocket reusability the launch tower catch will change rocket flight into something very close to the frequency and low cost of airplanes.

SpaceX will be checking sensors and satellite monitoring of the Booster after launches and separates. If it is looking good then they will try to catch it. If the booster has any issues of concern they will have it drop itself into the Gulf of Mexico.

16 thoughts on “SpaceX Confirms Booster Tower Catch Attempt on Return from First Orbital Flight”

  1. Fact…the FAA is being used as a political weapon by Biden hoping to force Musk to take a knee. Had Musk slipped him a little something and kissed his ring he’d have launched dozens more rockets by now.
    I feel the tower catch is doable and should be done.

    • The starship with booster hasn’t been ready yet any way, so the delays by FAA have had little consequence, and allowed SpaceX to get further in the manufacturing and initial testing of the rocket before the first orbital flight test

    • More like bezos paid off some people to stall this as long as possible until his billionaire rides could be used fore real missions.

  2. Clearly I believe that Elon read the Buck Rogers comic’s that we’re made in the 1930s. The spaceships then are much like the ones Elon has now. Thank you Elon.

  3. Maybe they’ll reconsider the plan to ditch the Starship too. They might on the same plan have an option to re-enter for an ocean landing near Hawaii after a fractional orbit if there are issues or complete a number of orbits to also try for a tower catch if everything is nominal.

    It would be a pretty stunning demonstration if it ended with both stages back at the launch tower ready to restack and re-fly on the first try.

    • I agree it would be stunning, but a landing of SN 24 on one of the sea based platforms would be equally impressive after say a full day in space, testing maneuvering rockets, delivering a payload etc. A ton of things have to go right for this to happen, cautiously optimistic! Call me the OPTIMISTIC ASTRONAUT! 😀

      • Problem is that they’ve committed to the Mechazilla landing scheme, saved weight by removing the landing gear from both booster AND Starship. That precludes anything but a crash landing on the barge.

        I suppose they could outfit the barge with an abbreviated version of Mechazilla. But there would be complications, since the barge would be shifting around in the surf, you’d have to add active stabilization.

        Eventually they’ll do just that for their floating landing pads. But for a test? Probably just not worth it, they’ll pay for the Starship just putting those Starlink satellites into orbit.

  4. That’s certainly an interesting change; I’d understood that they were going to ditch both components on the first orbital test, on account of not being sufficiently confident of the reentry aerodynamics to be sure of coming in close enough to the landing target to be safe.

    I wouldn’t want to believe that they’d just take the chance of dropping it on Boca Chica, so apparently they’ve gained some confidence on that front. And, of course, that was a lot of engines to just throw in the ocean.

    And apparently they ARE going to use the first orbital test launch to loft some Starlink satellites. I kind of thought they would.

    • My thinking is that they are going to queue up each part of the Starship launch. Boost, LEO, payload deploy, reentry, landing. They will see how far they get in the process. Clearly they have some confidence in the landing step.

      • The flyback on the booster is entirely over water until they reach their own facility, so they can activate the range safety charges any time things go off nominal.

        The return path for the Starship, OTOH, since it would execute at least a full orbit or more, would be over inhabited land to reach Boca Chica, and so they can’t afford any errors there. If they’d gotten a Mechazilla on one of those oil rigs they’re rebuilding, they could have attempted landing there. But those rigs are taking their time about being ready.

        So the best option with the starship appears to be ‘landing’ at a virtual Mechazilla, out in the ocean. They can measure the landing precision to centimeters, probably, so that’s almost as good as a real one for test purposes, aside from losing the ship.

    • The plan was to ditch both the booster, and orbiter. The FAA forced SX to stop their iterative design development by prohibiting flight testing. As a result the eventual test articles is much more capable, and closer to the eventual production model. For instance the modified covers(chines) protecting the pressure vessels of the engine start system now provide much more lift, so it’s easier to get back to the tower. The heat shield of the orbiter, and engines are much advanced over what would have been the first orbital launch if not for FAA interference, making return to the tower easier.
      This is why the first orbital flight can carry enough payload, and be reliable enough to make it worthwhile to load it with satellites.

      It’s obvious to me that the absurdly extended, extended, and extended once again was to give the ULA time to actually show some progress on SLS, and to punish Musk for stating his politically incorrect opinions, like a normal American citizen. Shame on the government for persecuting an immigrant African-American!

      • Stating opinions as facts is dangerous. Spacex has not ditched their iterative design; they stopped doing flight tests with starship because they got the data they needed. The FAA did not interfere in any way either.

        • Nah, starting opinions as facts may be stupid, but it’s not dangerous. It’s actually what most people do in everyday speach…

        • Actually, you’re wrong about the FAA. They absolutely did shut down SpaceX’s Starship flight testing for about a year.

          SpaceX had a limited license for testing that didn’t cover the booster, only the Starship itself, and didn’t permit tests that failed to return to the launch site. Once they’d completed the tests that fit within those constraints, their testing program was shut down pending FAA approval for expanded testing, which the FAA kept delaying, over and over.

          They did keep improving the ships, but had to do it without flight data.

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