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SpaceX switches to newer Starship and Superheavy for orbital test

Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk, SpaceX has decided that the company will no longer use Starship prototype #20 and Superheavy prototype #4 for the rocket’s first orbital test flight.

Instead, the company will fly two more recently built and upgraded prototypes, rumored to be numbers #24 for Starship and #7 for Superheavy. The company has also decided to switch from the first generation Raptor engines to Raptor-2s.

All these changes likely explain Musk’s announcement that the first orbital launch will not happen sooner than May. The changes also further suggest that SpaceX has realized federal permission to launch from Boca Chica will be further delayed, and thus it might has well push forward in other ways as it waits for the right to launch.

I suspect that if the federal government hadn’t moved in to block operations, it would have flown prototypes 20 and 4 two months ago, just to get some data. Now such a flight seems pointless, as more advanced prototypes are now almost ready to fly.

This decision also reinforces my prediction that no orbital flights will occur out of Boca Chica before summer, and are more likely blocked through November. It also increases my expectation that the first orbital flight might not occur at all in Texas. The longer the Biden administration delays SpaceX’s operations there, the greater the chance the entire Starship/Superheavy launch program will shift to Florida.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Richard M

    I suspect that if the federal government hadn’t moved in to block operations, it would have flown prototypes 20 and 4 two months ago, just to get some data. Now such a flight seems pointless, as more advanced prototypes are now almost ready to fly.

    If the growing reports (from some reliable regulars on the inside) at NSF’s L2 forum are to be believed, there’s more fundamental reasons, alas, why Booster 4 (B4) is not in a position to launch – not without a heck of work. As the story goes, SpaceX ground crew weren’t sufficiently cautious during one of the cryo tests with B4 and managed to introduce some FOD (foreign object debris) to B4’s CH4 tank that spread throughout all the plumbing, and since SpaceX runs the LN2 through the engine plumbing as well during cryo tests, all of the Raptor engines are also contaminated and basically the whole propellant feed system.

    If true, this is why we have seen no engine tests on B4. They couldn’t even if they wanted to, because they’d have to replace all the Raptor 1 engines, and SpaceX isn’t even making Raptor 1’s any longer. Alas, therefore, B4 is only good for cryo tests and testing out the ground equipment (which is not nothing.)

    So it looks like they’ve known for a spell that the first orbital launch is going to have to be with a later prototype stack. Probably, B7/SN24, which will be equipped with Raptor 2’s. Elon is promising a test flight in May, but I suspect that even if the FAA delivers a clean bill of health on schedule, it’s gonna be a push for them do it in 2Q (i.e., before July). But I can always hope!

  • pawn

    I never thought that B4 was going to fly because of all those SS “storage sheds” they have installed over the aft section external equipment. Those would be ripped off at some point during the assent and make a big mess.

  • Richard M

    I don’t know if the enclosures were flight risks, but I admit, they were awkward looking…

    Anyhow, it looks like B7 has these systems in a very different (and more aerodynamic) layout. The truth is, B7 and SN24 will be pretty substantially different vehicles than B4 and SN20. It’s more than just having Raptor 2’s, or more of them (33 and 9 respectively, versus 29 and 6). They’ll have full autogenous pressurization; substantially redesigned tanks and thrust puck; an improved QD panel; improved TPS system; and lots of other odds and ends they haven’t even talked about publicly.

    So in the end, it may be just as well that B7 and SN24 get to be the first ones to the dance. The data they’d get will be more relevant to the operational flight articles.

    How very, very different this is to how NASA has developed space vehicles! It hasn’t gone as smoothly or quickly as Elon hoped, but it’s clear they’re making rapid and substantial progress. And learning a lot through iteration.

  • Jeff Wright

    Tow the booster to Bonneville Salt Flats. Let it go out in style…

  • Star Bird

    Where can we Mine for Dilithium Crystals?

  • “Where can we Mine for Dilithium Crystals?”

    “Dilithium could be found on only a few planets in the galaxy, and was therefore a rare and valuable substance. Notable sources of dilithium included Coridan and Elas in the Federation, as well as Rura Penthe in the Klingon Empire and Remus in the Romulan Star Empire. It could also be found on Troyius, where it was known as radan, and had a variety of different uses, including jewelry.”

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