SpaceX’s launchpad at Starbase — the name of the company’s sprawling facility that has popped up by the Gulf of Mexico at the southernmost tip of Texas — has some unique features.
The large metal arms that look like they’re giving the rocket a hug aren’t a typical launchpad feature. SpaceX has a unique plan for this structure, which CEO Elon Musk has dubbed “Mechazilla.”
Eventually, SpaceX hopes these arms will catch the Starship spacecraft mid-air as it flies back home from a trip to space.
That maneuver has never been tried before — but it’s not entirely unlike the method SpaceX uses to land and recover its other rockets.
The company’s Falcon 9 rocket pioneered propulsive landing: It became the first to complete a soft touchdown of its booster after a flight in April 2016.
It used its engines, a set of hardware called grid fins to steer itself, and four legs attached to the base to make a gentle landing on a seafaring platform, called a droneship.
SpaceX has since perfected the maneuver, with 230 booster landings under its belt. (And that doesn’t even count Falcon Heavy booster landings.)
The main difference for Starship is that — instead of relying on landing legs — SpaceX plans to fly the rocket booster straight into Mechazilla’s giant metal arms, catching it before it hits the ground.
SpaceX won’t attempt to land Starship or Super Heavy today. Both will instead be discarded into the ocean.
But, before it hits the water, SpaceX will attempt to test out a landing maneuver by reigniting Super Heavy’s engines.
That should happen about six minutes and 30 seconds into flight — if all goes well.
Later, the Starship spacecraft may attempt something similar, making use of a belly flop maneuver as it heads in for landing over an hour into its flight.