More updates from SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site

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Link here. The article reviews what has been done for the past few months, as well as what has been done most recently. All of this new work appears focused on preparing for test flights of Starship and Super Heavy.

I should note however that I am beginning to sense a little bit of Barnum in this work. The steel-clad Starship Hopper that SpaceX has assembled here is clearly not even close to doing any hopper tests, as it doesn’t appear to have fuel tanks and its engines appear to be mere “placeholders for fit checks.” It looks really really cool, however, and is impossible to hide to the public, so it thus has garnered the company a lot of attention.



  • Kirk

    Just this morning they are rigging to remove the top, sheet-metal-over-frame section, presumably to install the upper bulkhead domes of the propellant tanks in the lower, steel-plate section.

    There is no reason to believe this isn’t an actual flight article (the hopper that Musk claims it to be), but they did appear to do a bit of extra work for the photo shoot, from stacking the upper section prior to completing the lower section, to installing those early prototype Raptor engines. Also, the polished, stainless sheet metal welded over the plates of the lower section is presumably entirely for looks.

  • Kirk

    The top section is off and they have removed all three engines.

    Here is some good drone video from yesterday of the Boca Chica sites — both the hopper assembly area, and the launch pad construction area.

    It’s interesting how different the hopper looks in different photos. On shots which include the reflection of a lot of ground equipment it looks quite wrinkly, but in other shots it looks much cleaner. A lot of people were charging that the photo in Musk’s “an actual picture, not a rendering” tweet must have been heavily photoshopped until it was pretty much replicated by local photographers.

  • Kirk

    The top section is off and all three engines have been removed.

    Here is some good drone video from yesterday of both Boca Chica sites — the hopper assembly area and the launch pad construction area.

    It is interesting how different the hopper looks in different photos. In shots which include reflections of ground equipment if looks quite wrinkly, but in other shots it looks much sharper. A lot of people thought the photo in Musk’s “an actual picture, not a rendering” tweet must have been heavily photoshopped until some local photographers pretty much duplicated it by working with just the right focal length and a uniform sky.

  • The three engines appear to be bells and combustion chambers, without pumps and turbines, so they look like enormous doorknobs. It looks like they’re putting in the tank domes now. I really wonder how much engineering dictated the form factor and how much “coolth,” once they realized it was going to be stainless instead of composite? Back at the beginning of the whole BFR thing, when it was called ITS, I did a rudimentary BOE on the initial specs and came up with a murky notion for a 700 foot tall, 3-stage vehicle that could fly from Texas to Mars and back, unrefueled (IMLEO was 450 metric tons). Probably not practical, maybe not even buildable in the here and now, but indicative of just how badly “ammunition spaceships” fooled us.

  • Kirk

    WB, with those dummy nozzle extensions slid up over the smaller bell, they certainly do look like door knobs. Ha! Photo.

  • Kirk

    Visible work in the last couple days include cutting a large, oval access hole in the lower section (Here is a post showing that hole and what appears to be a backing plate for it.) and tying down the upper, light weight section in anticipation of predicted 45-50 mph wind gusts (see the subsequent post).

  • Kirk

    Oops, here is the link I intended:

    (My kingdom for a preview or comment editing feature!)

  • Kirk

    They were working late into the night Sunday night installing the common bulkhead between the lower liquid methane tank and the upper LOX tank:

  • Kirk

    Elon Musk: Why I’m Building the Starship out of Stainless Steel
    (Popular Mechanics; Ryan D’Agostino; Jan 22, 2019)

    Just a bit more detail here than has been tweeted, particularly regarding the regenerative heat shield.

    “On the windward side, what I want to do is have the first-ever regenerative heat shield. A double-walled stainless shell—like a stainless-steel sandwich, essentially, with two layers. You just need, essentially, two layers that are joined with stringers. You flow either fuel or water in between the sandwich layer, and then you have micro-perforations on the outside—very tiny perforations—and you essentially bleed water, or you could bleed fuel, through the micro-perforations on the outside. You wouldn’t see them unless you got up close. But you use transpiration cooling to cool the windward side of the rocket. So the whole thing will still look fully chrome, like this cocktail shaker in front of us. But one side will be double-walled and that serves a double purpose, which is to stiffen the structure of the vehicle so it does not suffer from the fate of the Atlas. You have a heat shield that serves double duty as structure. To the best of my knowledge this has never been proposed before.”

    Q: What will this do to your schedule?
    A: It will accelerate it.

    “Very easy to work with steel. The carbon fiber is $135 a kilogram, 35 percent scrap, so you’re starting to approach almost $200 a kilogram. The steel is $3 a kilogram.”

    I certainly wish them the best, but time will tell if attempting something no one has ever even proposed before will accelerate their schedule. I wonder if this will later be revealed as a "bet the company" decision.

  • Kirk

    The tall, lightweight nosecone (sheet metal over frame — affectionately referred to as a tin foil hat) blew over during a severe storm last night. Musk tweeted that the mooring blocks failed during 50 mph winds, and that it will take a few weeks to repair. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see them quickly reconstruction that section pretty much from scratch, possibly using some of the salvaged material.) The lower section (the heavy business end with the tanks) was unaffected. Not much to see, but here is a photo:

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