NASA doesn’t want SpaceX’s Starship to explode on the launch pad of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, according to Reuters. The potential catastrophe might be so severe that it could deprive the United States of access to the International Space Station.
The object in question, the launch complex 39A, served as NASA’s “lunar port” for delivering astronauts to the lunar surface during the Apollo program. It is now the only launch pad capable of sending astronauts to the ISS from the United States – aboard SpaceX’s much more compact Crew Dragon spacecrafts.
Now SpaceX wants to continue what NASA’s have started in the 1970s. Namely, bring astronauts back to the moon in the coming years with the help of nearly 120-meter-tall Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle. But the risk of disaster, according to NASA, is pretty high.
If SpaceX’s previous attempts to conduct flight tests of early Starship prototypes say anything, the explosion is not ruled out. Over the past couple of years, several early prototypes have been blown up in huge fireballs, with dramatic setbacks causing giant pieces of rocket debris to fall from the sky.
“We all recognize that if you had an early failure like we did on one of the early SpaceX flights, it would be pretty devastating to 39A,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s space operations chief, told Reuters. The company is already building a launch pad for Starship just a few hundred meters from the 39A launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center. According to Luders, SpaceX is also exploring ways to make the 39A more resistant to a possible explosion.
“SpaceX is working with us on those things,” Lueders told Reuters. “Because it’s also in their best interest to not have what is a pretty steady source of income for them become interrupted.”The news came after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had published a long-awaited environmental assessment of the Starship space launch program at its test site in South Texas, requiring the company to make significant changes to the test site.
Although SpaceX has not yet sent its giant rocket into space, it is only a matter of time before the company led by Elon Musk conducts its first orbital flight test.