SpaceX boss Elon Musk has offered a closer look at the apparatus that will be used to launch — and, more interestingly, catch — its next-generation Super Heavy rocket.
In what appears to be a drone video tweeted by Musk on Sunday, we see the top of the launch-and-landing tower as well as the clamp-like arms that will catch the first-stage booster when it comes in to land after deploying the second-stage Starship to space.
Starship launch & catch tower pic.twitter.com/5mLIQwwu0k
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 9, 2022
Catching the booster will allow SpaceX to use the vehicle again, following in the footsteps of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 boosters that have been reused in multiple missions in recent years.
An animation created by C-bass Production toward the end of last year offers a clearer idea of how Super Heavy is expected to launch and land once the system has been fully developed.
As the video shows, the plan is for the Super Heavy booster to return to a specific spot between two clamps that will then close up and stabilize the rocket before it reaches the ground. The clamps would then slide down the launch tower to gently place the rocket back on the ground.
Musk revealed the plan to catch Super Heavy in late 2020, saying the procedure would save the company the cost of building landing legs for the rocket. Getting rid of the legs would also reduce the booster’s weight, which would mean less fuel and/or bigger payloads.
He added that bringing the booster back to the launch tower would mean that eventually the vehicle could be ready for another flight “in under and an hour.”
SpaceX is currently awaiting permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to perform the first test flight of Super Heavy and Starship — collectively known as Starship — from its base in Boca Chica, Texas.
Following a recent delay in the permit process, the FAA’s decision is now expected toward the end of February, hopefully paving the way for a launch some time in March.
However, the tower in Musk’s video will not attempt to catch the Super Heavy on its maiden flight as the landing technology is still being developed. Instead, the booster will come down in the Gulf of Mexico.
Super Heavy will be powered by 31 Raptor engines and when it finally gets off the ground will become the most powerful rocket ever in terms of thrust, exceeding that of Saturn V that launched NASA astronauts to the moon five decades ago.
The second-stage Starship, which has already been tested by itself in a series of high-altitude flights, will use six Raptor engines for missions that could one day take astronauts to the moon, Mars, and even beyond.