SpaceX founder Elon Musk's ambitious vision for the next-generation Starship spacecraft is one of rapid reusability. Launch it. Bring back the rocket booster. Refurb it. Quickly launch another Starship. Part of that vision involves a pretty wild piece of engineering: a launch and catch tower.
On Sunday, Musk tweeted a sweeping video of the tower with the succinct message, "Starship launch & catch tower." The 31-second video gives us a visual tour of the structure, which sports an arm that's made to snag a returning Falcon Heavy booster after it's done its job escorting a Starship off this rock.
The tower, located at SpaceX's Starbase facility in Texas, is under development at the same time SpaceX is working to get a Starship prototype into orbit for the first time. SpaceX is building Starship as a multipurpose vehicle that could carry humans to the moon and Mars and also work as transportation between locations on Earth.
Musk, who famously dreams big, is hoping to make orbit with the shiny spacecraft early this year and conduct up to a dozen test flights during 2022.
SpaceX is still waiting to see if the Federal Aviation Administration will issue a launch license for an orbital Starship to take off from Texas. A lot has to happen with that test flight and other developments before we might see the tower try to catch a rocket booster.
Musk has referred to the robotic catcher as "Mechazilla." The tower is also designed to support launch activities. Chris Bergin of NASAspaceflight.com has been tracking testing of the tower and sharing videos of its exercises.
Starship prototype launches have seen both successes and explosions, so the launch tower might also face some tense moments when and if it finally sees action. As Musk tweeted last year, "Success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!"