SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the company has started building new launchpad infrastructure in Florida for its Starship rocket.
“Construction of Starship orbital launch pad at the Cape has begun,” tweeted the executive.
“39A is hallowed spaceflight ground — no place more deserving of a Starship launch pad!” he added. “Will have similar, but improved, ground systems & tower to Starbase.”
Starship — equipped with 29 Raptor engines — stands 400 feet tall and is able to carry over 220,000 pounds into orbit.
Space.com explained that the launchpad will be the starting point for future Mars missions:
In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease agreement with NASA that lets the company use Pad 39A, the jumping-off point for all but two of the agency’s crewed Apollo missions and most of its space shuttle flights. SpaceX already launches its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from the site, but the giant Starship requires new infrastructure.
SpaceX is developing Starship to take people and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. The vehicle consists of two fully reusable stages: a first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and an upper-stage spacecraft called Starship. A fully stacked Starship stands 395 feet (120 meters) tall — about 30 feet (9 m) higher than NASA’s famous Saturn V moon rocket.
NASA confirmed to CNBC that SpaceX is “within the rights of their lease agreement to make launch infrastructure improvements within the boundaries of the pad.” The agency is not contributing financially to the new construction.
SpaceX is leading a new wave of private space innovation. According to Space Capital — a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage space technology — financiers are pouring money into space ventures at a massive scale:
With another $8.7B invested into 112 space companies in Q3, there has now been $231.2B of equity investment into 1,654 unique companies in the space economy over the past 10 years. VCs invested another $3.9B into 83 space companies in Q3, of which $2.0B went to U.S. companies. Infrastructure companies have already hit a new record, with $10.3B invested YTD (6% more than full year 2020), driven in part by SPACs.
Despite the nascent industry’s potential, some lawmakers are attempting to introduce taxes and other regulations.
Days after Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched successful space tourism missions, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) proposed the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act — which would establish a new excise tax on commercial space flights carrying human passengers.
“Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some,” Blumenauer argued. “I’m not opposed to this type of space innovation. However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don’t have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good.”
“While proponents of suborbital space flights point to transatlantic flights as having similar carbon footprints, these flights carry significantly more passengers and travel much farther,” added a press release from Blumenauer’s office. “The result is space launches accounting for an estimated 60-times greater emissions than transatlantic flights on a per-passenger basis, enough to drive a car around the earth and more than twice the carbon budget recommended in the Paris Climate Agreement.”
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