How SpaceX plans to move Starship from Cocoa site to Kennedy Space Center

Starship prototype to be moved to Kennedy Space Center in September

Long before SpaceX can fly Starship to the moon or Mars, a prototype of the spacecraft must be moved from its construction site in Cocoa to the Kennedy Space Center for testing.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Long before SpaceX can fly Starship to the moon or Mars, a prototype of the spacecraft must be moved from its construction site in Cocoa to the Kennedy Space Center for testing.

SpaceX representatives declined to answer News 6's questions about how the private company will transport the spacecraft more than 20 miles between the two facilities or when the relocation will occur.

However, records obtained exclusively by News 6 reveal that in September the 180-foot-tall spacecraft could be towed along the State Road 528 Beachline Expressway before being placed on a barge in the Indian River for shipment to Launch Complex 39.

Cargo transport company Roll-Lift USA recently submitted a permit application to the Florida Department of Transportation seeking to move a "tank" to KSC over a two-week period in September.

A diagram attached to the application indicates the cargo is the SpaceX Starship, which is currently being constructed in multiple segments at a steel facility on Cidco Road in Cocoa.

Another prototype of Starship is also undergoing testing at a facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The Starship "hopper" recently fired its engines in the first test last month. Another hop test could happen this week, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk. 

According to state records, the Cocoa Starship prototype will be transported across vacant land just south of Coastal Steel to Grissom Parkway on a 15-axle truck and trailer.

After traveling east on Grissom Parkway for about a half mile, the spacecraft will be towed south on Industry Road towards the Beachline Expressway, records show.

The route SpaceX Starship hopper prototype will take from Cocoa to its barge transport to Kennedy Space Center. (Image: FDOT)

News 6 recently observed electrical crews raising power lines higher above the road along the proposed 16-story spaceship's route.

As law enforcement temporarily shuts down several roads and interchanges in the area, records show Starship will travel eastbound in the westbound lanes of SR 528 for nearly 2 miles.

After crossing over U.S. 1, the spacecraft will exit SR 528 on a small, unnamed island in the Indian River that serves as an easement to the expressway.

[READ: Report details Starship launch, landing plan at Kennedy Space Center]

According to the permit application, a barge pulled by two tugs will be docked alongside an existing seawall. Winch trucks parked nearby will secure the barge using mooring lines.

The spacecraft prototype will be rolled on to the barge over matting laid to protect the ground, state records indicate.

The cargo company will be responsible for any damage to the seawall or other state-owned property, according to the permit application, and a Florida Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed no agency dollars will be spent on the project.

Once secured on a barge, records obtained by News 6 suggest Starship could be transported from the Indian River to the Banana River through the Canaveral Barge Canal, followed by a 15-mile cruise north to KSC.

A rendering of the barges and tug boats that will guide Starship to Kennedy Space Center. (Image: FDOT)

Starship will enter Kennedy Space Center by water next to the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launchpad 39A, according to a recently-released NASA environmental impact report.

That so-called "turn basin" is where other large rocket components have arrived at KSC by barge, including the Space Shuttle's external fuel tanks that were built in Louisiana.

At 180 feet in height, Starship will be slightly taller and wider than the shuttle's orange fuel tanks.

SpaceX has not disclosed what type of flight tests the Starship prototype will undergo once it arrives at Kennedy Space Center.

In a tweet last month, SpaceX founder Elon Musk indicated that both Starship protypes could be ready to "fly" in September or October.  

Hans Koenigmann, SpaceX vice president of mission assurance,  said Monday during an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics forum that SpaceX is planning more progressive "hops" at the Boca Chica site and plans to fly Starship "as soon as possible." But he was hesitant to put a definitive date on completion.

“They are working as fast as they can, but I still don’t know,” Koenigmann said.

Musk announced SpaceX will be providing an update on the Starship program Saturday.

Ultimately, SpaceX plans to mount Starship on the top of a large booster rocket called Super Heavy, powered by 31 Raptor enginers, creating a 400-foot-tall spacecraft. It's SpaceX’s fully reusable spacecraft designed for human and spacecraft launches to the moon and Mars.

SpaceX plans to land Starship at Landing Zone 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Super Heavy will touch down on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean several miles offshore.

According to the environmental impact report, SpaceX eventually plans to launch the spaceship about 24 times a year.

About the Authors:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.