Super Heavy/Starship construction now in SpaceX facilities in Texas and Florida


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Capitalism in space: Even as it prepares for more Starhopper vertical test flights next month, SpaceX has now initiated Super Heavy/Starship construction in its facilities in both Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX is working a dual test flow for its new Super Heavy and Starship systems, with construction ongoing in Florida while Starhopper prepares to restart test operations in Texas. Two orbital Starship prototypes are now in staggered stages of production while the first Super Heavy booster is set to begin construction in the next three months. However, the focus will soon return to Starhopper, as it prepares for an incremental series of untethered test hops.

Earlier this month it came to light that SpaceX crews at Cocoa Beach in Florida were starting to assemble a second orbital Starship prototype vehicle, similar to the first of such articles that are currently located at the company’s launch and testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, these two builds were going to be the center of a cooperative/competitive effort between the two sites and their respective team members, in which they would share insights and lessons learned during development – although they were not required to put them to use.

There is another aspect to this that must be emphasized. Super Heavy and Starship are not rockets as we have come to think of them. They are the names for a class of vehicle, each of which is intended to fly many times. SpaceX is therefore not building the first version of a throwaway rocket, but a ship it will use over and over. Because of this, they are not going to be building many of these ships, as you would with an expendable rocket. Instead, they are going to build only a handful, like a ship company that builds luxury ocean liners.

Building two ships simultaneously thus allows them to hone the engineering more quickly and efficiently. It also means that when they are done, SpaceX will have two giant space liners for getting people and cargo into orbit, literally a small fleet that will give them redundancy and make quick flight turnarounds possible.

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7 comments

  • Brian

    A few things to add, these 2 Starships being constructed in FL and TX are Oribital/Suborbital prototypes that will test the flight envelope beyond what the Hopper can do, and best construction practices, they are not operational ships. They will test reentry aerodynamics and the heat shield. Spacex announced last week the Starship prototype in FL will do its test launches single stage to orbit/suborbit with out the Super Heavy from Launch pad 39A. How Super Heavy will be integrated into the test program later hasn’t been revealed yet. Second they are going to build more than a hand full of ships, obviously not as many as would have to be for expendable rockets but a lot more than a hand full. A lot of the first ships that go to mars will be used as habitats and ISRU platforms that won’t come back until a base is established. A lot of ships will be needed, Elon has not said how many, but he has said many. Now for going to the moon and back and establishing a base there you will need far fewer, perhaps just 10 or so, maybe a lot more, but that is just a guess.

  • wodun

    Because of this, they are not going to be building many of these ships, as you would with an expendable rocket.

    Tough to say. Obviously not as many as with expendables but that might not mean low numbers. There are likely to be several different variants of Starship depending on what it is used for. The ones used for ptp on Earth, probably won’t be the same ones used for Lunar and Martian missions. Then there are cargo, fuel, and space deployment variants possible.

    IMO, sending fleets of Starships to Mars is only needed to set up the initial infrastructure. These would stay on Mars. In order to get reuse numbers up high enough to drive down the marginal costs per launch in order to make a ticket affordable enough for a colonist, there needs to be a Mars/Earth cycler(s) that can carry thousands of people. This way, really large numbers of people can be put in space and aboard a cycler in a really short amount of time.

    There is a relatively brief launch season to Mars. Starships used to travel to Mars and then come back, will have very low launch rates.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “There is another aspect to this that must be emphasized. Super Heavy and Starship are not rockets as we have come to think of them. They are the names for a class of vehicle

    Wikipedia has some clarification:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFR_(rocket)#First_stage:_Super_Heavy

    The Super Heavy is a booster, similar to but larger than the Falcon 9 first stage.

    Starship comes in three (or four) variations. A manned version for interplanetary travel to Mars, to low Earth orbit (LEO) space stations, and probably to the Moon. An unmanned fuel-tank version for providing propellant to the manned version. An unmanned hardware version for taking satellites, deep space probes, and probably space station modules to LEO.

    A fourth version is the point to point version for taking passengers (and cargo?) from one point on Earth to another point, such as New York to Tokyo. This version may still be a proposed usage. I would expect its interior to be designed differently from the interplanetary version, as the cabins, common areas, galley, and solar storm shelter would not be needed for such brief voyages.

    As for the needed quantity, if Musk wants to take a million people to Mars and each Starship ship carries 100 people, he will need 10,000 voyages, suggesting that he will need quite a few interplanetary Starships as well as the Super Heavies and the launch pads to launch them and the tanker Starships to fuel them.

    Fortunately, the windows for starting a voyage to Mars is fairly broad, a couple of weeks or so, but they occur about 26 months apart. If the turnaround time for each Super Heavy is rapid enough, then each Super Heavy and its launch pad may be able to get three or more Starships on their way to Mars during each window. Each interplanetary Starship will need three or so tanker launches to provide the propellant for the voyage, so it could take four days to a week to prepare each Starship on orbit.

  • Tom Donohue

    “..Building two ships simultaneously thus allows them to hone the engineering more quickly and efficiently. ”

    And, if Mr. Musk is smart, he will give each team some room to deviate from the design, experiment and work in improvements. After the vehicles become operational, take lessons learned and ideas that maybe were a bit late for the first deadline and use them to improving the follow on generation. Kinda like the Space Shuttle program was supposed to do but never did.

  • pzatchok

    Liberty ships to space.

    The first took 250 days to construct. By the end of WW2 they wee being built at an average of 42 days with the fastest being built in 14 days 15 1/2 hours.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8zmUidCf0Q
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_ship

  • wodun

    If the turnaround time for each Super Heavy is rapid enough, then each Super Heavy and its launch pad may be able to get three or more Starships on their way to Mars during each window.

    A rapid turnaround combined with a cycler would mean a small fleet of SH/Ss could put thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people in space rather than a couple hundred. They need the infrastructure on both ends of the journey first though. As it is, SH/S will be good for the government to lower the cost of prospecting Mars but it wont be a colonizing machine without some additional developments.

    Musk needs someone else to make that interplanetary ship and he is providing the tool to make it possible.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “A rapid turnaround combined with a cycler would mean a small fleet of SH/Ss could put thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people in space rather than a couple hundred.

    A Mars Cycler spacecraft would be so nice to have in order to shuttle back and forth. However, SpaceX’s current plan is to use their own Starship class spacecraft for the journey.

    With a cycler spacecraft, which I will name “Aldrin” for this discussion, many of the heavy parts of the Starship would not need to be accelerated to speed with each launch, so more people could be lifted per Starship launch. The Starships used could be more like the point-to-point version (with plenty of space for supplies and provisions), because heavy items such as the cabins, common areas, galley, and solar storm shelter would be part of the Aldrin spacecraft and already accelerated to Aldrin’s trajectory speed. Multiple Starships could dock with Aldrin and go along to Mars, where the passenger board again for descent to Mars. Other Starships come up from Mars, and the process brings returning passengers back to Earth.

    Perhaps a cycler spacecraft is already one of SpaceX’s ideas for the not-so-distant future. I hope so.

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