Elon Musk plans to catch SpaceX’s most powerful rocket rather than land it


A rendering of Starship and Super Heavy.


Someday in the not too distant future, Elon Musk plans to take off from Earth and send his next generation spacecraft en route to the Moon, Mars or just the other side of the world. Minutes later, the first stage booster used for takeoff makes its way to the launch tower, where it is “grabbed” by a specially designed arm prepared for another launch within an hour.

The SpaceX chief hinted at the plan in a series of tweets on Wednesday.

“We’re going to try to grab the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm, using the fins on the grid to pick up the charge,” he wrote in response to another Twitter user.

Super Heavy is the next-generation booster designed to pair with the SpaceX Starship currently in development at the company’s facilities in Texas. You may have seen the first successful test flight at high altitude of one of the first Starship prototypes earlier this month, which ended in a big hard landing shot.

A Starship prototype arrives for an explosive landing.

SpaceX video capture

Musk’s vision is that Starship will eventually carry up to 100 passengers through the solar system and on super-fast transcontinental flights through space.

The current SpaceX rocket, the Falcon 9, used to launch satellites and missions to the International Space Station, returns to Earth and lands using retractable landing legs. For Super Heavy, which will rival the biggest and most powerful rockets ever built, Musk sees benefits in eliminating those legs.

“Saves mass and cost of legs and allows immediate repositioning of the booster on the launch mount – ready to recharge in under an hour,” he tweeted.

The movement redirects the stress of a landing onto the grid fins, which are located near the top of the thruster and are primarily used to steer the rocket during flight, and onto some sort of launch tower device to which the grille fins will come to rest on.

Musk said using legs to land Super Heavy is always an option.

“The legs would definitely work, but the best part is not a part, the best step is not a step,” he wrote.

When we will see all of this in action is not clear. SpaceX is working on Super Heavy in Texas, but expect several more solo Starship prototype test flights without the big booster before seeing any of these possible innovations in real life.