Photos: Aerial survey of Kennedy Space Center on the eve of Artemis 1

NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket stands on Launch Complex 39B, behind the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

Spaceflight Now took an aerial tour around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the days before the scheduled launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket. These images captured by Walter Scriptunas II show the the powerful moon rocket on its launch pad, plus SpaceX’s ongoing work to ready the spaceport for the huge commercial Starship rocket.

The 322-foot-tall (98-meter) Space Launch System moon rocket is standing on pad 39B at Kennedy awaiting liftoff on Artemis 1, carrying an unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a mission to orbit the moon and return to Earth. The test flight will pave the way for future astronaut flights to the moon.

Less than two miles to the south of pad 39B, SpaceX has leased Launch Complex 39A from NASA to support launches of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, including crew missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX is now building a launch tower for its next-generation Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket, a fully reusable vehicle that will eclipse even the giant SLS moon rocket in scale.

NASA and SpaceX envision the heavy-lift rockets — the two most powerful launchers ever built in the United States — to be based at neighboring launch pads through the coming decade. The Super Heavy and Starship rocket will combine to reach a height of nearly 400 feet (120 meters).

NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket, in the foreground at pad 39B, with SpaceX’s ongoing work to prepare pad 39A, in the background, for the Starship program. United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 launch pad — Space Launch Complex 41 — is seen in the distance. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

The aerial tour also caught glimpse of SpaceX’s work to build a Starship factory near the company’s Hangar X facility a few miles southwest of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy. Teams are currently outfitting articulating arms and two additional sections that will top off the Starship launch pad tower at Launch Complex 39A.

SpaceX began stacking the nine sections of the Starship launch pad gantry structure in June, a big step in the company’s construction of a second Starship base in Florida after one already built in South Texas.

The tower is already taller than the existing fixed service structure at pad 39A left over from the space shuttle program, and currently used to support Falcon 9 crew launches. Two more segments will be installed in the coming weeks to complete the structural assembly of the tower.

There’s more work to do after that, with completion of the launch mount, the addition of moveable arms to the tower, and work on other ground support infrastructure needed for the Starship program.

The photos also show Blue Origin’s rocket factory just outside the gates of the space center, and the rocket garden display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

An aerial photo of SpaceX’s facility at Roberts Road at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Hangar X Falcon 9 rocket refurbishment facility is in the background, and work to prepare for a Starship factory and operations center is ongoing in the foreground. Two more segments for the Starship launch pad tower are visible as they are readied for transport to pad 39A for stacking. Elements of the “chopstick” arms that will be added to to the tower are also seen in this picture. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now An aerial photo of SpaceX’s facility at Roberts Road at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two more segments for the Starship launch pad tower are visible in the background (in gray) as they are readied for transport to pad 39A for stacking. Elements of the black “chopstick” arms that will be added to to the tower are also seen in this picture. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now A wide-angle view of the Kennedy Space Center, with the Vehicle Assembly Building and pads 39A and 39B in the background along the coast. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now Launch Complex 39A, where SpaceX launches Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from the Apollo-era pad at left. On the right, SpaceX is constructing a more than 450-foot-tall tower to support future Starship missions. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket on pad 39B. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket on pad 39B. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket on pad 39B. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station — just to the right of the Vehicle Assembly Building — in preparation for a Starlink satellite mission. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket on pad 39B. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket stands in the distance, behind the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now A space shuttle orbiter mock-up, the air traffic control tower at the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility, and the Artemis 1 moon rocket. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now The Launch and Landing Facility — formerly the Shuttle Landing Facility — runway at the Kennedy Space Center. This three-mile-long landing strip was the end point for space shuttle missions. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now SpaceX’s Hangar X facility, used to refurbish and prepare Falcon 9 rocket components, such as stages and payload fairings. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now Blue Origin’s factory for the New Glenn rocket. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now Blue Origin’s factory for the New Glenn rocket, with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the background. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where the space shuttle Atlantis is on public display. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now The rocket garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The blue rocket at left is the final unflown United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket. The rocket displayed horizontal is a Saturn 1B rocket left over from the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

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