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Update on SpaceX’s plans for Starship

According to FAA regulatory documents, SpaceX has updated its development plan for Starship, including changes in its overall plans for its Boca Chica facility.

The document also lays out a three-phase test program, which it says “would last around 2 to 3 years”:

Phase 1: Tests of ground systems and fueling, a handful of rocket engine test-firings, and several “small hops” of a few centimeters off the ground. The document also includes graphic layouts, like the one above, showing the placement of water tanks, liquid methane and oxygen storage tanks (Starship’s fuels), and other launch pad infrastructure.

Phase 2: Several more “small hops” of Starship, though up to 492 feet (150 meters) in altitude, and later “medium hops” to about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers). Construction of a “Phase 2 Pad” for Starship, shown below, is also described.

Phase 3: A few “large hops” that take Starship up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the unofficial edge of space — with high-altitude “flips,” reentries, and landings.

The first phase is now complete, with the company shifting into Phase 2.

Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being considered a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Edward

    From the article: “‘Aiming for 20km flight in Oct & orbit attempt shortly thereafter,’ Musk tweeted on August 28.

    You may be expecting me to comment on rapid development being important, but I have surprised myself, too, because I am very excited that SpaceX is moving so fast on this rocket’s development. There appears to be no Super Heavy ready to take Starship Mk1 to orbit. With no payload to speak of (just a whole bunch of engineering instrumentation), perhaps it is not so difficult for Mk1 to be a single stage to orbit machine.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being consider a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.”

    After I retired from the Army, I worked for about a decade in the Corporate Treasurer’s office of a major tech company. Here are my thoughts as a finance professional.

    1) I think SpaceX blew it and if I were an investor, I’d want to know why and how much has been sunk into Boca Chica. Shoot, tell me why SpaceX even needs Boca Chica (the work couldn’t be done at HQ and at a leased NASA facility?) If yiu tell me SpaceX just found out how unsuitable Boca Chica is, why wasn’t that discovered in the preliminary studies before the property was purchased? You have to question the quality of management.

    2) Notice how nobody is commenting on this, the Musk fanboys in the media just want to shove it under the rug. If GM bought property for a factory and stated they were moving a significant portion of their manufacturing there and then came back and said, “We’ve changed our mind, we’re just gonna put up an office building and a test track”, it would be front page news in the financial sections and management would be excoriated.

    3) Is Musk is going the way of Branson in terms of hype? I look at all the business of Boca Chica being the future heart of SpaceX and a major space port, the hoopla about starting to pick Mars landing sites when it is years away from even having a testable vehicle, etc and I am not happy.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre,
    I disagree with much of what you wrote.

    1) The quality of management may be questionable, but they do seem to get results at reasonable costs. Not everyone is perfect, and business conditions are always fluid. What they thought five years ago clearly changed by the end of last year, when it became clear that Boca Chica was going to be used for a time as a test facility. They certainly could not do this kind of testing at their HQ in Hawthorn, and why lease another facility when they already have their own facility now available?

    2) The Musk fanboys in the media may not know what to make of it all yet. Your GM analogy may not work well. Since business conditions always change, it is conceivable that even GM might have already had to change plans for a property that they purchased. I’ve seen worse business disasters, and I even worked at a brand new “factory of the future” only to see the company declare, two decades later, that another facility that they were building in another state would be their “factory of the future,” because the first one did not work out (I blame ITAR for that).

    3) Is Musk is going the way of Branson in terms of hype? Maybe, but eight months after their Starhopper was first noticed at Boca Chica it had finished its test series, and it is only three years since Musk first announced the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) concept. Falcon Heavy may have taken twice as long to launch as first expected, but it performed fairly well on its maiden voyage. In fact, not only did Falcon Heavy become operational in less time than Branson’s StarShipTwo, so did Falcon 9 and Dragon.

    I’m not quite sure why you are unhappy, because it is not your money being spent. The taxpayer is not footing this bill.

    Not all of SpaceX’s ideas come to be, but then again, business conditions keep changing, sometimes making an idea too impractical. SpaceX may have some incredible hype, as going to Mars had seemed impractical to governments with much, much greater resources than little SpaceX, but the BFR proposal has not been criticized as being physically impossible. It turned out that Branson’s engine was not suitable to perform the job originally intended, and rather than start from scratch and find a suitable engine, Virgin Galactic is trying to kluge together a different mission using an older — yet still current — definition of “space.”

    We can only wait to see whether SpaceX can make and operate BFR as it is intended and can actually get it to Mars and back, and if so, how long it takes to achieve. However that idea turns out, I suspect that BFR will greatly reduce the cost of getting into low Earth orbit.

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