Starship moved to launch site


Pioneer cover

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype has been transported to its launch site at Boca Chica in preparation for a series of tests prior to its first launch hop, hopefully to a height of 12 miles.

Whether SN01 is still destined for flight, it’s safe to say that Starship SN01 tank testing could begin in a matter of days — SpaceX currently has early-morning roadblocks indicative of such testing scheduled from February 29th to March 2nd. SpaceX is likely to kick off by filling SN01 with water to check its tanks for leaks, followed by liquid nitrogen – chemically neutral but still incredibly cold. After that, SN01 would likely graduate to Raptor engine installation and a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) with liquid oxygen and methane before moving on to a static fire attempt, if all goes well.

I have embedded below the fold a fifteen minute video showing the transport operation. The pace is slow, so I suggest playing it at 2x normal speed, using the settings.

My immediate thought in watching this video is that SpaceX’s mobile transport vehicle certainly cost far less than the two mobile launchers NASA built for SLS (for a cost of about a billion dollars). In fact, SpaceX’s entire Starship development program will likely cost less than what NASA spent on just its mobile launchers.


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15 comments

  • Diane Wilson

    What I’m reading over on NasaSpaceFlight is that SN1 will not fly, and will perform only a static fire with three Raptors. I haven’t seen a specific reason, but there are enough indicators to say that this is only a ground test build. No landing legs, COPVs and other hardware mounted on outside of rocket, large square hole cut into oxygen tank section, no fairings. Also, SN2 is already under construction, presumably with more improvements in welding technique and quality.

    It would appear that Musk is working on scaling up his manufacturing techniques, along with refining Starship design.

  • geoffc

    @Diane there is much discussion if SN1 will even have 3 Raptors. A lot of semantic parsing of short Musk tweets to determine.
    Basically they are iterating so fast on the design no one can keep up.

    Which is absolutely glorious.

  • Michael

    SpaceX is bobbing and weaving faster than NASA could even begin to consider changing the spec. Must be fun times in Configuration Control.

  • mivenho

    NASA spent a billion dollars for two transport vehicles? Are they nuts?

  • mivenho: No, they are essentially corrupt and incompetent, though they don’t realize it.

  • Pat

    I think you are letting your biases show here, Robert. Did some checking, and NASA has two means of moving SLS hardware around. One is the “crawler transporter” (there are two), built back in the 1960s as part of the Apollo program for moving Saturn V’s around.

    The other is the “self propelled module transporter”, which has also been around since the ’60s, and has been used for moving around elements of the Saturn, space shuttle, and other assorted big pieces of hardware for decades, and not just for the space program either.

    Now, did NASA have to modify these machines to accommodate the SLS. Probably, to some extent. Did it cost a billion dollars? I’d have to see the gun camera film on that before I’d believe it. Problem is, you all have let your SpaceX love/NASA hate so cloud your judgment that it throws pretty much anything you have to say on these matters into question.

  • Pat: See these posts:

    March 22, 2018: Congress pumps pork money to NASA in omnibus budget

    The link at this post states that Congress gave NASA $350 million to build second mobile launcher.

    October 10, 2017: Citing safety, NASA panel advises building a new, costly mobile launcher

    The cost for the Constellation modile launcher: $234 million, which the story notes is now no good and must be reconfigured by NASA for SLS for another $122 million, which eventually became much higher.

    The first mobile launcher cost $356 million plus, the second, $350 million. Total: $706 million, as of March 22, 2018.

    However, the final cost was more. I can’t find it now, but there was another story I linked to that listed the cost for the first mobile launch as rising to a half billion.

    So, the cost for both was somewhere between $706 million and $850 million. You are right, not a billion, but close enough for government work.

    And yes, NASA had to rebuild the Saturn 5 launchers. Just read the links.

    I base what I say on actual facts. If NASA did it sensibly, I’d say so. In this case it has not.

  • pzatchok

    It looks like they just bought a used one of these.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-propelled_modular_transporter

  • Star Bird

    Looks kind of like the Vulture the home made Space Ship from Salvage 1

  • sippin_bourbon

    So that is what they paid for the mobile launchers.

    How much whenever they needed to modify it for a new system?

    Can’t be cheap.
    —–

    ” Problem is, you all have let your SpaceX love/NASA hate….”

    There it is again.

  • pzatchok

    After the Constellation rebuild they found the launch tower was bent. (Money wasted) They left it until the SLS rebuild.
    For the SLS system they had to rebuild all the tracks, replaced the engines, replaced all the bearings, rebuilt the tower, and upgraded the carry capacity from 12 million to 18 million.
    They then had to change the configuration because of the changed engine placement of SLS.
    They also rebuilt the roads the crawlers used.

    Close to a billion sounds about right.

    And SLS might never fly.

  • Dick Eagleson

    There seems to be a confusion here between the crawler-transporters and the mobile launch platforms (MLP’s). These are separate pieces of hardware. The mobile launch platforms are what the Saturn V, and Shuttle rode on and on which Ares V and, now, SLS and OmegA were/are supposed to ride. There were originally three of these built for Apollo and subsequently rebuilt for Shuttle. Since then, at least one was rebuilt for Ares V and one for SLS – or perhaps this was two rebuilds of the same MLP, I’m not entirely sure. Another of the MLP’s is supposed to support the notional NGIS OmegA rocket in the highly unlikely event it is chosen as one of the DoD’s two approved launch providers later this year.

    The launch vehicles ride atop the MLP’s and the MLP’s, with their vehicles on top, are moved, as a unit, between the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the pads by the two crawler-transporters which were originally built for the Apollo program in the mid 60’s. As noted, the crawler-transporters have been recently rebuilt and updated to handle the SLS which is significantly heavier than either the Saturn V or Shuttle. I don’t have a figure readily to hand for what this work cost, but it wasn’t cheap. The money numbers Bob cites are for successive modifications – and perhaps even a new scratch-build – of the MLP’s. The total expense for all this is certainly on the close order of a billion dollars.

  • Edward

    Pat,
    SpaceX love/NASA hate

    Actually, we are very disappointed that Congress has so badly misused the skilled, talented, and knowledgeable people at NASA. They are capable of more than Congress has set them to do. It is Congress that drives SLS to failure, by trying to be the rocket scientists and design engineers, specifying the requirements for this system. That failure, and our acknowledgement of that failure, is why you believe we have a hatred of one of the best agencies of the government. In the areas where Congress interferes least, NASA excels.

    SpaceX, on the other hand, is doing what Blue Origin is doing, except getting their services to market much more quickly. This is why SpaceX gets all the attention. That attention is why you believe there is so much love for the company.

    Dick Eagleson is correct about confusion about the NASA hardware, but there is also an unfair comparison for the SpaceX transporter and NASA’s Mobile Launch Platform.

    SpaceX has a separate launch pad, and the transporter that they used carries far less than NASA’s transporter. Different philosophies are being used at SpaceX than were used at NASA when Project Apollo was being developed. These days, NASA has pressure to reuse previous hardware in the belief that money is saved. NASA is forced into creating kluges as flight hardware and other kluges as ground support hardware. SpaceX, on the other hand, is free to design hardware specific to its needs and to conform to what is actually needed, not to reconfigure anything to fit what it was not designed to fit.

    Oh, the liberty to be free from governmental interference! To do what actually makes sense and to change course during the development phase in order to make it work well for a low cost.

    When SpaceX is in charge of what it makes, it gets what it wants. When Congress is in charge of what NASA makes (has its contractors make), all NASA gets is what Congress wants.

  • wayne

    a repeat from me, but a nice backgrounder with lots-o-factoids:
    Starts with Falcon 9 and then flashes back to the Saturn V; great film snippets.

    “How Does SpaceX Move……”
    Primal Space 2018
    https://youtu.be/oUDes_wpGvg
    7:03

  • Edward

    Pat,
    SpaceX love/NASA hate

    There are people who have a right to love SpaceX. These are the ones who most appreciate the lower launch prices that SpaceX has brought about. Companies such as BulgariaSat:
    https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/bulgaria-credits-spacexs-low-costs-for-making-its-satellite-possible/

    The people who are served by BulgariaSat 1 and other satellites that have been made possible due to the lower launch costs have every right to love SpaceX. There have been many people in the space and satellite industry who have long wished for lower launch costs, because as the prices decrease the ability to do business in space and to have benefits from space increase.

    Thank you, Pat. I used to appreciate SpaceX, but now I realize that I should love it for opening up space to so many people who would not have had the access or the benefits of access.

    Congress, with Obama’s help, ruined NASA’s legendary manned space program.

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