In January 2021, Elon Musk announced SpaceX’s latest plan to increase the number of flights they can perform by drastically reducing turnaround time. The key to this was a new launch tower that would “catch” first stage boosters when they returned to Earth. This would save the need to install landing legs on future Super Heavy boosters and possibly future Starships returning to Earth.
Musk shared this idea in response to a tweet from an animator with Twitter handle Erc X asking if his latest rendering (of a spaceship landing next to its launch tower) was correct. As usual, Musk responded on Twitter saying:
“We’re going to try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm using the mesh ribs to carry the load … Saves bulk and cost on legs and allows for instant repositioning of the booster on the launch bracket – ready to fly in under one hour.”
The ground crews at SpaceX’s South Texas Launch Facility near Boca Chica recently completed the stacking of the nine bolted steel sections that make up the tower, which is now approximately 150 feet high. After completing this phase, the teams can now equip the tower with large drive arms, hydraulic systems, fuel lines, and other components that transform it into what Musk has affectionately called “Mechazilla”.
This was likely a reference to the character “Mechagodzilla” from the Godzilla movie franchise, a robotic version of Godzilla that is the same as the original in the 1974 movie Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. The moment Musk announced this new tower, people in the space community were speculating on what it might look like. The first to hire him was a 3D designer (Youtube handle Mini3D) who created an animation based on Musk’s description the very next day.
The latest comes again from Erc X, who used the finished tower as the starting point for his latest animation (see above). The animation is headlined “Mechazilla <1 hour turnaround" and shows a fully functional tower that "catches" a used Super Heavy Booster (which has just returned from a spaceship to orbit) and brings it to the starting stand. The actuator arms then rotate to grab another spaceship and stack it on top of the Super Heavy.
We also see a secondary arm move into position once the Starship and Super Heavy are stacked (likely a support arm). Musk let Erc X know how close he was to capturing the tower. “Pretty close. Booster and arms move faster. The QD arm will stabilize the shipmate,” he tweeted, followed by: “And the ship is also caught by Mechazilla. As with the booster, no landing legs. These are only used for Moon & Mars needed until there is a local infrastructure. “
As a result, Musk is now promising a turnaround time of less than an hour and has confirmed that future spaceships can be accessed using the same device and similar devices. This latter scenario is likely to materialize when Starships start moving passengers on point-to-point flights between major cities – a service that Musk has promised will be available once the Starship is cleared for commercial flights.
In the same thread, another musk was asked whether such a structure would ever be built on Mars and whether super heavy boosters could be built there for missions to the outer solar system. “Yes in both cases. That would be a great result for civilization, ”Musk replied. Erc X also posted several other animations showing what a Mechazilla fetch would look like, which you can see on his Twitter feed.
Further reading: Teslarati