Scoop: Improvements coming to SpaceX launch pad hint at ‘big’ things coming to SLC-40

Starship could come to SpaceX's SLC-40

A recent permit filed for water drainage at SLC-40 supports rumors that SpaceX’s Starship rocket could be coming to SpaceX’s launch pad on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

At one point, Starship development occurred simultaneously in Florida and Texas. During the early development of Starship, Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 were being built in a sort of race between SpaceX’s Cidco Road facility in Florida and Boca Chica, Texas. At one point, there was even work happening on SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center to support Starship launches.

The Florida work on actual Starship mockups stopped around the start of 2020 and has been sitting rather stationary since. While Florida still supports the production of thermal protection tiles, not much else has occurred with Starship here…

Until recently, when a rumor began to crop back up about work starting on a Starship launchpad, not at LC-39A, but rather at SLC-40, which sits on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station rather than Kennedy Space Center.

A source familiar with the matter previously recommended Space Explored keep an eye on SLC-40 permits related to Starship, for possible developments coming to the area. Space Explored’s Jared Locke located the permit today.

New stormwater drainage permits

Yesterday, SpaceX filed a new permit application for water drainage at SLC-40. The description of this permit application was, “Construction of a complex-wide stormwater system to serve proposed and future improvements.”

The details of the “proposed and future improvements” are left out, but the changes to the pad will be rather dramatic, see for yourself:

All of the blue areas are pond treatment areas. The gray areas in the pad mark the “impervious” areas where water cannot enter the soil, ie. concrete. The hashed area on the right map shows the proposed new impervious areas. This permit request essentially would see all light areas around the ponds (the grassy areas) made impervious (concrete). This is a rather major change that will really change the look of the pad.

To be clear, nothing in this permit directly mentioned Starship, only “proposed and future improvements” coming to the pad. It is possible that these upgrades could be linked to Falcon Heavy support, other general environmental concerns, or… well… maybe even crew support.

However, this large concrete area will bring the pad much more in line with how the launch pad down in Boca Chica looks right now, but with water basins throughout.

Exactly where a possible Starship launch pad could be within SLC-40 remains to be seen…

Why would Starship come to SLC-40?

Starship potentially going to SLC-40, while somewhat surprising, makes sense. Starship development is happening and will continue to down in Boca Chica, but more launch pads are certainly better. Blue Origin previously criticized Starbase as a “non-existent spaceport.” While that certainly isn’t the case, it wouldn’t be surprising if NASA would prefer to have more control over the area that a Lunar Starship is launched from. And with multiple launches being necessary for the fuel needed to support a Lunar Starship landing, multiple launch sites could help SpaceX keep up the pace.

Why SLC-40 not LC-39A?

While launch complex 39A has already had a small amount of work done for Starship, a lot has changed with the Super Heavy rocket since that began. With SpaceX planning to catch Super Heavy, it is certainly a risky procedure. SpaceX keeps Falcon 9 landings well away from the launch pads by using separate landing pads and droneships down away from the launch complexes.

For a massive catching structure, a simple concrete pad won’t work. Rather than risking a new, and (currently) somewhat explosion-prone rocket causing damage to SpaceX’s crew capable Falcon 9 pad, it is much safer to keep the risk contained to another SpaceX launch site. LC-39A can launch any mission that SLC-40 can, the reverse is not true.

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