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Superheavy passes first tank test

Superheavy after tank test, July 12, 2021
Screen capture from live stream,
shortly after tank test of Superheavy

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first fullscale complete Superheavy prototype, dubbed #3, passed its first tank test yesterday.

Booster 3 was likely filled with a few hundred tons of liquid nitrogen relative to the more than 3000 tons its tanks could easily hold and the fraction of that total capacity SpaceX’s suborbital launch site can actually supply. Teams have been working around the clock for months to outfit Starship’s first orbital launch site with enough propellant storage for at least one or two back to back orbital launches – on the order of 10,000 tons (~22M lb) – but the nascent tank farm is far from even partially operational. That’s left SpaceX with its ground testing and suborbital Starship launch facilities, which appear to be able to store around 1200 tons of propellant.

Assuming the suborbital pad’s main liquid oxygen and methane tanks can also both store and distribute liquid nitrogen, which isn’t guaranteed, SpaceX thus has the ability to fill approximately 30-40% of Super Heavy B3’s usable volume. Frost lines aren’t always a guaranteed sign of fill level but if they’re close, SpaceX likely filled Booster 3’s tanks just 5-10% of the way during the rocket’s first cryoproof.

While the company still says it is aiming for a July orbital launch, that seems highly unlikely. They still have to do a Superheavy tank test with full tanks, plus static fire tests. They also need to get the orbital launchpad finished, with a full tank farm.

Nonetheless, SpaceX is moving fast towards flight of this heavy lift reusable rocket. I still think the odds are 50-50 it will complete its first orbital flight before SLS, even though its development began more than a decade later and has cost a tenth of the money ($6 billion vs $60 billion).


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.


  • Edward

    The last I heard, SpaceX has raised closer to $2 billion for Starship development. Is the $6 billion figure you give figurative, or do you have a more up to date cost than I have?

  • Edward: The $6 billion number is based on the various investment rounds I have tracked on BtB. See this post from April: SpaceX raises another $1.16 billion in private capital

    I admit that some of that money is going to Starlink’s development, but I also suspect that Starlink is a relatively small percentage of the total. The satellites are small, mass-produced, and launched on reused Falcon 9 at probably very very low cost.

  • wayne

    “If you see something that looks like a star
    And it’s shooting up out of the ground…..”

    “Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”

  • Edward

    That is where my confusion comes from. The $6 billion is for both Starship and Starlink.

    My back of the envelope calculation, which I did in my head, suggests that Starlink may have cost as much as $3 billion, so far. Since there are outside equity investors for Starlink, it is only fair for SpaceX to charge that project independently at the going rate of $52 million per launch in order for the outside investors to pay their fair share. It is an accounting thing, where each launch is a $52 million contribution by SpaceX, otherwise SpaceX would end up owning less than its fair share of the Starlink constellation.

    My recollection is that each Starlink satellite is around (perhaps still above) $1 million, so there has been at least $2 billion spent on Starlink, so far, with around $1 billion coming from SpaceX launches. This analysis that I just did suggests that outside investors have $4 to $5 billion in equity in Starship. The next question is: how much equity does SpaceX have in Starship?

  • Edward: All good points. Considering however that the profits to SpaceX from Starlink are probably going to pumped back in to develop Starship, it seems reasonable to bunch the two together.

    However, remembering that a large portion of that $6 billion is not being used to develop Starship shows once again how stark the comparison between Starship’s development and SLS’s.

  • Jeff Wright

    Don’t focus on cost as much as capability. Bean counting has done enough damage. Apollo was worth its costs and so is SLS and SuperHeavy.
    Mars has no profitable potential right away. Big deal.

  • Richard M

    My recollection is that each Starlink satellite is around (perhaps still above) $1 million

    I’ve heard that the present iteration of the Starlink satellite is down to $300,000 per unit, though there’s nothing official on that. And of course that does not include development costs.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman,
    You wrote: “Considering however that the profits to SpaceX from Starlink are probably going to pumped back in to develop Starship, it seems reasonable to bunch the two together.

    First, the profits from Starlink may not come until after Starship is operational, so it may be unfair to include such profits in the development costs for Starship (including Super Heavy). Second, if you are going to combine the development costs for both, then it is only fair to point out that for that amount of money SpaceX developed two major space projects for 1/10th the cost of SLS alone.

    Jeff Wright wrote: “Don’t focus on cost as much as capability.

    The discussion is about costs. If you want to include capability, then Starship wins hands down, as it is to be capable of taking people to Mars but SLS is not. Cost is an important point, however, because if it weren’t for the tremendous cost, NASA would have started a project to go to Mars a quarter of a century ago.

    Did I shortchange Starship on capabilities? It is also being developed to refuel other Starships, but SLS is not. It is being developed to launch more than an order of magnitude more people into orbit than SLS with the Orion spacecraft. It is being developed to launch very often and be reusable, but SLS might one day be able to launch annually and is expendable. Starship has the potential for point to point Earth travel, SLS does not. A variation of Starship has been chosen as a manned lander for lunar missions, but SLS has no such capability. Have I forgotten a Starship capability? It seems to me that I have forgotten one.

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