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SpaceX stacks Starship on top of Superheavy

Superheavy with Starship on top
Click for original image.

Capitalism in space: Only three days after the company had rolled Superheavy prototype #4 to the launchpad, SpaceX today stacked Starship prototype #20 on top, uniting for the first time the entire rocket.

All told, the rocket is 395 feet high, about 32 feet taller than the Saturn-5.

The photo to the right, reduced slightly to post here, was posted by Elon Musk earlier today. It also makes obvious several things that will be different for this Starship flight compared to the previous suborbital hops. Starship’s dark exterior is because it is covered with thermal tiles designed to protect it as it returns to Earth flying through the atmosphere at orbital speeds.

Note also the grid fins on Superheavy. Apparently they will be open during the entire flight, instead of unfurling shortly after stage separation as is done with Falcon 9.

I am not sure what the vertical attachments near the bottom of Superheavy are for. The plan is for the stage to land in the Gulf of Mexico, so it does not need landing legs. Could these be attachment points for holding the rocket to the launchpad?

I have been predicting a late September/early October date for this rocket’s first orbital launch test. SpaceX is sure working hard to beat that timeline. They still need to do tank tests and static fire tests of the whole assembly, but based on past schedules, they might get this done in only a few weeks. If so, it means they might be able to launch before the end of August.

My god, if only other American rocket companies worked in this manner. Imagine what wonders they all could accomplish.

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  • geoffc

    Vertical attachments at the bottom, are COPVs, pressure vessels. Makes people wonder if this is really a flight ready vehicle, with exposed COPVs?

    What happened the autogenous pressurization? And self-start of the engines?

    Clearly more work is in the works on the booster.

  • Diane Wilson

    As @geoffc notes, the booster doesn’t seem flight-ready. In addition, there is no skirt around any part of the engines, leaving all the Raptor plumbing exposed.

    Noting that Starship has already been unstacked, I would not be surprised if Booster 4 is also unstacked, and both return to the build site for finishing work. But somewhere along the line, Booster 4 will be necessary for ongoing checking and finishing of the orbital launch platform, other ground support equipment, fueling tests, and more. I’ve also read that some of the 29 Raptors may not be flight models, so some engines may need to be replaced.

    So they’ve done their photo op, but work continues. It would be nice to see it fly by the end of September, but no bets.

    By the way, Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd) did a long interview with Elon Musk, and the first part is on Youtube. They’re taking a tour of the build site as they talk, and it’s really a must-watch video.

  • Jeff Wright

    The tiles ruin the 5O’s vibe. Not as plain as Zenit…noble like Atlas Centaur. High def video is nice….but Elon? Please…PLEASE use film for launch. Leave it out in the sun and grit…and it will have close to Saturn gravitas. Saturn’s busy design was the opposite of SpaceX simplicity yes-but that totem beast had the best ceremony. R-7 was smaller…but the early film grain made it look miles tall-the tallest tower of the iron city of Dis. A part of the Kremlin took flight. So Elon…don’t make it too streamlined…too slick. The Burj Dubai might be a skyscraper…but this is a sky ripper.

  • JhonB

    Where is the fuse?

  • SteveMac

    Saturn V says: You may be longer, but I’ve got more girth.

  • Richard M

    The biggest stopper is going to be FAA approval. It might not be before November before SpaceX gets clearance to launch.

    P.S. The Tim Dodd interview with Elon linked by Diane is absolute must viewing.

  • Jeff Wright

    I like the hydrazine in a cup deal. No spark plug as it were…so I like it. Keeping the gases might help stage rigidity…but I don’t feel qualified to have my own thoughts after seeing how very much faster of mind than body he is. God, we can’t have him be hurt….please don’t ride in Branson’s contraption! The world won’t miss me. I at once feel useless and relieved at the same time. Good that he thinks in tons…

  • Calvin Dodge

    “Saturn V says: You may be longer, but I’ve got more girth.”

    Starship booster replies: I have twice your thrust.

  • A. Nonymous

    Elon blew my mind again. [Well, we decided that leaving the grid fins hanging out in the breeze the whole way up was cheaper in terms of performance costs than mounting equipment to fold them in and out]. And he also wants to test Raptors against simulated regolith to see if he really needs high-mounted landing engines on the lunar version. Can’t wait for the next part.

  • pzatchok

    If this thing flies inside this year the world will be stunned.

    I don’t expect anything more than what they have stated for this flight but even that would be incredible.

    Just how much as a second stage could this first stage lift?

  • David K

    The second part of the Elon interview is now up FYI..

  • pawn


    There was an concerted effort at Kennedy a few years back where they were studying the regolith/blast interactions. I hope NASA can cough up the data and see if they can help Elon out.

  • Mitch S.

    Those interview vids are amazing.
    Can you imagine Bezos (or most any other tech CEO) spending this time with a YouTuber, walking around the plant, getting “into the weeds” with tech talk?
    Remember some of the snark when the Starship prototypes were blowing up, and Musk here says it’s better when they blow up because otherwise we have to store them somewhere.
    And “Starbase” – doesn’t look like what one would imagine the assembly center of the future Mars rocket would look like. Looks more like an office building construction site. All the beeping, in one area workers bolting in grid fins, another area, fitting thermal tiles, guys driving around in pickup trucks.
    Sounds like Musk learned some lessons from the “production hell” experience at Tesla.
    So compelling., the future in the making!

  • Edward

    geoffc wrote: “Clearly more work is in the works on the booster.

    I don’t think any of us thought this was the final design for production.

    Diane Wilson wrote: “Noting that Starship has already been unstacked, I would not be surprised if Booster 4 is also unstacked, and both return to the build site for finishing work.

    Considering that the move to the launch site was immediately after the engines were installed, the only two things that SpaceX would reasonably be testing were either a static fire before doing too much additional construction or a fit check. Fit check it was.

    In the second Everyday Astronaut video, Musk says, “A lot of parts have not been weighed.”

    My first thought was that this is a terrible way to design a flight item, but on further thought I considered that they are not yet ready to design the operational versions. They are still trying to figure out how to get them to fly properly, and they will worry about optimizing mass at a later time. If the design can put 100 tons into orbit, then they have 100 tons of weight margin for these test units.

    Mitch S. wrote: “Remember some of the snark when the Starship prototypes were blowing up, and Musk here says it’s better when they blow up because otherwise we have to store them somewhere.

    Well, that is a nice excuse from Musk, but they can always cut them up for scrap rather than store them. The important point is to find where the limits are so that they can back off from those limits and fly a safe craft. Right now, though, they seem to be trying to modify the designs so that the limits are farther than they are now.

  • Edward noted: “They are still trying to figure out how to get them to fly properly, and they will worry about optimizing mass at a later time. If the design can put 100 tons into orbit, then they have 100 tons of weight margin for these test units.”

    As was said of the F-4 Phantom II; ‘With enough thrust, anything can fly.’

  • pzatchok

    Could you imagine a habitat module the diameter of this rocket and a 150 feet long?

  • JhonB

    Funny, I read an article about this being stacked and when to the live cam and could not find it, I looked at all the cams listed, then I read here that someone posted that they unstacked it already. I thought the article was wrong and then I read it in three more places with pictures. I thought I was going nuts.

  • JhonB: It was stacked and then quickly destacked. They were simply doing some fit tests as well as I think practicing the procedures for future stacking operations.

  • Andi

    I hope they had it stacked long enough to determine if Super Heavy could safely support the weight of Starship

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