SpaceX prepares Starship for first orbital flight (November?)

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Summary
The most powerful rocket built so far is being prepared for its first launch to space
Starship.png


Watch the progress live

This is a fully stacked Starship (top) and Super Heavy (bottom). A couple of too-small-to-see cars near the bottom for scale, I also added a Saturn V and the Statue of Liberty for comparison. 120 meters tall, about 5000 tonnes when fully fueled. Twice the mass and over twice the thrust of Saturn V. The largest rocket ever built by mass, thrust, height, and payload capacity. N1 had the largest diameter.
But its size is not the revolutionary part. It is designed to be fully and rapidly reusable as first rocket ever: Land, stack, refuel, launch again,, like an aircraft. If successful it could cut launch costs so radically that space gets accessible to millions.

SpaceX has made rapid progress towards a first launch in recent weeks, leading to the first full stack today. This was not being stacked for a launch yet, it was only a test of the procedure. About an hour later Starship was disconnected again (it's still being lowered at the time of this post). Some heat shield tiles (black) are still missing and there are probably other outstanding tasks. We can also expect more tests of the upper stage (which just left the production site yesterday), and potentially more tests of the booster.

No launch date yet. The FAA needs to finish an environmental review which requires a 30 day period for comments from the public. That period has not started yet. We don't know the exact timeline of SpaceX but it's possible that the FAA approval is the critical path. The rocket might be ready earlier.
The first launch will only be in space for a bit less than one full orbit. The booster will end up in the Gulf of Mexico while Starship will splash down near Kauai in the Pacific. That launch profile makes sure Starship can't strand in space (and re-enter uncontrolled) if something goes wrong.

Image sources: NASA Spaceflight, Apollo, Statue of Liberty
 
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  • #2
anorlunda
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Elon Musk is known to be impatient with government regulation (to put it mildly.) Look at the location of his Texas facility below. The blue line is the USA- Mexico border. Musk could buy the land on the south side of that border. Then he would own a contiguous property that spans an international border. Just think of the creative things he could do with that.

Could the US or Mexico demand to put a fence with guards across that border on private property? Could they restrict what people or materials cross from one side of that property to the other? I don't know if a case like that has ever been legally tested.

I'm sure that I am not the first to think of that. SpaceX employees might have a lot of fun with speculation over their beers.




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  • #3
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The US and Mexico would probably set up a border checkpoint?
ITAR requirements make it essentially impossible to have anything relevant in Mexico.

The main CERN site is both in Switzerland and France. They are both part of the Schengen area - so things are far easier than US/Mexico - but they still have extra regulations for the entrance from the French side.

SpaceX bought two old oil platforms and converts them to launch/landing platforms. Offshore launch activities wouldn't be close to anyone so it's much easier to get them approved.
 
  • #4
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FAA approval is still pending - the public comment phase has ended, now FAA is going through all the comments. Meanwhile SpaceX keeps working on its hardware.

Starship static fire with all 6 engines. A few heat shield tiles fell off, this was expected, they'll reattach them. The attachment procedure produces a few bad outliers and the static fire puts more stress on the vehicle than an actual launch. During an actual launch Starship is on top of Super Heavy, and by the time it starts its own engines it is in space far away from the ground and the atmosphere.

The launch tower has gotten giant arms (different view) to lift booster and ship, and to capture them in the future.

The tank farm to store propellants has been finished, at least in terms of the larger tanks.

The booster used for the orbital launch attempt has not done static fire tests yet.

SN21 and BN5, expected to fly the second orbital launch, are already in advanced stages of manufacturing (here is a diagram) and some segments for SN22 and BN6 are around as well.
 
  • #6
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Things got delayed quite a bit. Still no FAA approval and SpaceX needs some more work on the hardware, too. Nevertheless, they stacked the rocket with the launch tower this time and Musk provided an update.

Not that many new things. We see the two main engine revisions, Raptor 1 and Raptor 2, next to each other. The new version is much easier to build and it's more powerful, too. The timeline is confusing. On one hand Musk estimates to have regulatory approval by March and have the hardware ready on the same timescale, on the other hand he estimated a launch would be a couple months away (in the QA session). The longer timescale is more realistic. Another stated goal is a successful orbital launch this year - hopefully the first obviously, but maiden flights are always risky.
Orbital refueling in late 2023 if things work well. SpaceX has two strong incentives to reach that milestone - it's a critical element of their Moon landing plan, and it's needed to send a Starship to Mars during the 2024 launch window.
 
  • #7
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After a long delay the FAA approval is finally there. SpaceX aims at a launch in July or August, pending some more hardware work and a launch license by the FAA. More delays are likely.
SpaceX has moved to Raptor 2 and newer booster/ship versions.

Booster 7 has been lifted onto the launch pad:

322-NASASpaceflight-B7-tower-arm-lift-4-c-1024x533.jpg

From the NASASpaceflight stream

One or more static fire tests are expected next week. Each engine provides enough thrust for two fully loaded Boeing 747 to takeoff, and the booster has 33 of these engines installed.

The ship (24) has been moved to the launch site earlier. It still needs engines and some more work on the heat shield, and it's likely to do its own static fire test.

Progress tracker
 
  • #8
dsaun777
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With how much effort, time, and money is being dumped into rockets, I'm still surprised there isn't a more efficient way to get people into space. The most clever method is just larger rockets?
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
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Like what? Flapping one's arms? (That's a joke...and bonus points to anyone who can tell me from where)
 
  • #10
anorlunda
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With how much effort, time, and money is being dumped into rockets, I'm still surprised there isn't a more efficient way to get people into space. The most clever method is just larger rockets?
Read Arthur Clarke's Fountains of Paradise. That's a better way. All that remains is to find a way to build it. :wink:
 
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  • #11
dsaun777
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Like what? Flapping one's arms? (That's a joke...and bonus points to anyone who can tell me from where)
Key and Peele- you can do anything?
 
  • #12
sandy stone
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Peanuts? Didn't Charlie Brown say, "I think I'll flap my arms and fly to the moon" ?
 
  • #13
bob012345
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Read Arthur Clarke's Fountains of Paradise. That's a better way. All that remains is to find a way to build it. :wink:
I almost didn't recognize the author, Arthur C. Clarke!

There are other options between pure rockets and space elevators such as hybrid space plane concepts. The British Skylon concept comes to mind. Of course this is the way it should have been by now;

images-1.jpg


download.jpg
 
  • #16
sandy stone
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A link to the comic strip that I think Vanadium50 was referring to.
 
  • #17
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Wikipedia has a long article on alternatives
All of them suffer from at least one of these three issues:
  • They require materials or components with a performance beyond what we can build today
  • They require a massive upfront investment
  • They only help a bit, you still need a rocket

Personally I think an orbital ring is the most promising option. It only has the initial investment as issue, but with a growing demand and lower cost to orbit this could become affordable.
For now we are stuck with rockets.
If you want to discuss this further I'll split it into a separate thread.

No booster static fire tests yet.

Edit: Some issue during a test. Just a small explosion, probably induced by a single engine, we'll see how much it damaged.
 
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  • #20
hutchphd
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One would think that the pressure levels encountered would be modest compared to a launch. This assumes that the configuration of booster and pad was similar to a launch configure.
 
  • #23
gleem
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SpaceX (Musk) expects to have two full stack starship ready for the demo in November and produce another every two months after that. Next year should be interesting barring a "rapid unscheduled disassembly".
 
  • #24
hutchphd
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I believe such an event is quite possible. What Elon should be hoping for is that such event occurs t>30 s. If you have seen the Soviet N1 Launch 2 no further explanation necessary.
 
  • #25
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The test program for the ship seems to be done, they did a static fire with all engines.

Booster 7 made a 7-engine static fire, it's now back at the construction site to get improved blast shields (they protect other engines if one of them blows up). In the meantime they tested the water deluge system of the launch pad. Once it's ready the booster will go back to the launch pad for more static fire tests, at least one is expected to use all 33 engines. Put the ship on top (this might be done for the 33 engine static fire already), do more integration tests, launch.

November looks possible if there are no major setbacks. At that point booster and ship for the next flight will already be completed. Their test campaign should be much shorter as SpaceX will know the overall behavior of the system better by then.
 
  • #26
TeethWhitener
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Ok dumb question. I admittedly am poorly-read on the subject, but how long can you reasonably sustain a static fire on 33 engines? Are they all at max thrust? At some point (n engines, n=???), you must overcome the ability of the clamps to hold the danged thing in place.
 
  • #27
Tom.G
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If you have watched a launch you probably noticed that those beasts do not have a jackrabbit start off the launch pad. They are really rather sedate in their get-up-and-go.

After all, most of the "clamping force" is gravity.
 
  • #28
TeethWhitener
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After all, most of the "clamping force" is gravity.
Is this true, though? I would imagine that a decent fraction of the clamping force is the yield strength of the material that makes up the rocket. Given the fact that you do a static fire on a rocket and then try to use the same rocket to launch into space, what are the constraints?
 
  • #29
Tom.G
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You can see in this video that the holddowns are at the base of the rocket.

As that area of the vehicle has to handle the full engine thrust during normal operation, it is the obvious place to grab the beast.

Starship Static Fire Test | Ship 20​

 
  • #30
hutchphd
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This does beg the question: "Can they do a full 33 engine test without a loaded second stage in place?"
Also can they ballast the second stage without actually using propellents? I presume it could be ballasted with LN2 for the test fire
 

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