Elon Musk says SpaceX has begun building a Starship launch pad on Florida’s Space Coast

SpaceX has started building a launch pad for its Starship rocket in Florida, CEO Elon Musk announced on Friday, as the company plans to add another location for the launch of the mammoth rocket under development.

“Construction of the Starship orbital launch pad on the Cape has begun,” Musk said in a tweet.

Starship is the next-generation massive rocket SpaceX is developing to launch cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.

The company had previously started work on a Starship-specific launch pad on the grounds of Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX is renting from the agency for the launch of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. But since construction workers poured concrete for the foundation of the Starship Pad in late 2019, the site has largely remained dormant.

NASA confirmed in a statement to CNBC that SpaceX is “under their lease to make improvements to launch infrastructure within the confines of the pad.” The agency also confirmed that NASA is not providing funding for the Starship launchpad and has postponed SpaceX in terms of the scope, cost, and schedule of the project.

The space agency conducted an environmental assessment of the plan in 2019 and allowed SpaceX to begin work on the LC-39A site. However, the agency said that “only approval needs to be issued at this point,” with takeoff and landing approval requiring a separate approval process.

Tom Engler, director of planning and development at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, told CNBC that he thinks the SpaceX plan is “really exciting.” Before the company rented the complex, it was previously used to launch Saturn V rockets for Apollo missions, as well as space shuttle missions.

“If you look at the history of the launchpad, this is probably exactly how it was used,” said Engler. “For us, it’s really just kind of a thought process confirmation of why this pad was originally built.”

When SpaceX began developing Starship in earnest two years ago, the company began building prototype rockets both near the NASA complex and at its private facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The company later focused on operating at the Boca Chica site, nicknamed the “Starbase”, and has since conducted Starship test flights and more from the Texas site.

Last month, Musk said that SpaceX will “hopefully” launch the first Starship prototype into orbit from Texas in January or February, the company’s next big step in the rocket’s development. This test is pending regulatory approval as SpaceX requires a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration for the mission – with the federal agency expecting to complete an important environmental review by the end of this year.

Musk’s tweet on Friday marks the resumption of work on the launch site for the mammoth rocket in Florida as he urges SpaceX to conduct up to a dozen Starship test flights over the next year.

Its construction announcement also comes as SpaceX is working to resolve a “crisis” with the production of the Raptor engines that power Starship rockets, which Musk revealed in an email to employees the day after Thanksgiving. Musk’s email described a dire situation and warned of a “real risk of bankruptcy” for SpaceX if the company does not regularly fly Starship missiles by the end of 2022. In a quick update earlier this week, Musk tweeted that problems with the Raptor engines will be “fixed,” but no further details on the problem or solution.