A senior space agency source told Reuters that NASA wants Elon Musk’s SpaceX to verify that its plan to launch its next-generation Starship rocket from Florida does not jeopardize neighboring launch infrastructure crucial to the International Space Station.
Musk wants to show customers that Starship can reach orbit, a long-delayed pivotal milestone in the rocket’s development.
A launchpad at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is the only one approved to launch the company’s Crew Dragon capsule.
NASA depends on that spacecraft to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station.
The company is studying ways to “harden” 39A, or make the launchpad more resilient to both an explosive Starship accident and forces emitted from a successful liftoff.
The rocket’s next big test is the complex task of launching into orbit for the first time.
Part of SpaceX’s challenge is to show that 39A will not be damaged by Starship’s novel liquid oxygen and methane fuel.
“The explosive potential for that combination is not well known,” FAA official says. The review is expected to place conditions on SpaceX that could add delays to its Starship program.