Capitalism in space: By shifting both the 15th and 16th Starship prototypes to its garden at Boca Chica of retired spacecraft, SpaceX has essentially confirmed that it has shifted operations there from short test hops to Starship orbital test flights.
Built as the first of several planned backups to Starship SN15, which debuted a number of significant upgrades in April and May, it appears that Starship serial number 16 (SN16) has been retired to a display stand after its only sibling became the first full-size prototype to successfully survive a launch and landing on May 5th. SN16 actually reached its full height before SN15 lifted off and was more or less complete by May 10th. Since then, the prototype has remaining more or less untouched, seemingly waiting for SpaceX to decide its fate in lieu of Starship SN15’s major success.
Ultimately, with SN16 now sitting side by side with SN15 at what will likely become a sort of open-air SpaceX museum, it appears that the company has made up its mind.
In other words, prototype #16, though built and ready to fly, will likely never do so. Instead, the company is focusing its operations on preparing for the first orbital test flights using Starship prototype #20 stacked on top of a Superheavy, with the first flight planned to circle three-quarters of the globe to land in the Pacific northeast of Hawaii.
Since neither #20 nor its Superheavy are fully assembled, that flight will likely not occur in July, as SpaceX had initially suggested as its targeted launch date. However, with all work now focused on that orbital test flight, it is almost certain they will attempt it before the year is out.
The big question is whether Starship’s first orbital flight will beat out SLS’s first orbital flight, presently scheduled for November but expected to be delayed.
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