SPACEX CEO ELON MUSK TOOK UP TWITTER ON SATURDAY NIGHT TO DISPLAY A NASCENT STARSHIP ROCKET ASSEMBLY LINE. (ELON MUSK)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has presented a new glimpse inside the company’s swiftly-expanding South Texas Starship factory, showing the initial stages of the next-generation rocket’s first real assembly line — and a plethora of spacecraft hardware.
Located two or so miles from the Gulf of Mexico (and Mexico itself) in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX has been earnestly planning a presence in South Texas for over five years. Initially meant to host the United States’ first private orbital launch complex for Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets, only a slight amount of work – recognized as soil surcharging – was done in the four years that trailed SpaceX’s 2014 announcement. In late 2018, though, work began intensely to build basic launch and engineering facilities.
Fewer than six months later, the first actual Starship prototype – recognized as Starhopper and built from scratch out in the South Texas basics – kindled its Raptor engine for a short static fire test, bringing the first to facilities and rocket to life less than half a year after they were little more than a pile of dirt and steel sheets. Now, barely nine months after Starhopper’s first static fire test, SpaceX is working day and night to erect a full-scale rocket factory and construct what could become the first orbital-class Starships. On February 9th, Elon Musk proposed the best sight yet of the unbelievable progress SpaceX has made in a matter of weeks.
Hardly a month ago, the rocket hardware pictured above did not happen, whereas the giant Tesla-motivated tent having those Starship parts was a half-completed skeleton. Now, Elon Musk says that SpaceX has efficiently completed three of the toughest parts of its original upgraded Starship prototype (SN01), though an additional two (of three) of those parts – called propellant tank domes – are already in progress for a second Starship (SN02).
Outside of the ‘sprung structure’ (i.e. tent) revealed in Musk’s February 9th photo, SpaceX contractors seem to be a few days away from finishing the shell of a second same tent, eventually doubling the space accessible for fenced manufacturing operations. Simultaneously as both Starship hardware and production accommodations are quickly coming together, SpaceX is also constructing what is assumed to be a Vehicle Assembly Building – a possibly massive structure that will protect Super Heavy boosters and vertical Starships from the elements while workers gather them into finished rockets.
In the finished tent, SpaceX seems to have set up the first actual Starship assembly line (of sorts), growing from working on a single type of prototype at a time to simultaneous (serial) production of major components. Noticeable are three Starship tank domes – two completed samples of which have already been moved outside and combined with finished ring segments, making two halves of Starship SN01’s complete liquid methane (LCH4) tank.
Close to the back of the tent, work is also in progress on numerous Starship SN01 tank rings. In the middle, technicians are equipping Starship SN01’s engine and ‘skirt’ section, where the lowest tank dome will attach to three (up to six) Raptor engines. Towards the left, a pack of two rings seems to be stored off to the side, though – only faintly visible in Musk’s photo – another pair of rings is being fused together with the support of a rotating table.
Away from its full capacity and working out of a much smaller tent, SpaceX’s devoted ring forming station – assigned with turning coils of steel into complete Starship rings – has completed no less than 34 steel rings since the January 1st. SpaceX is still obviously learning and at minimum third of those rings wound up being binned due to faults, but the material price of all of those rings (~55 tons of steel) is perhaps less than $150,000. Moreover, those 34 completed sections would reach over 60 meters (200 ft) tall if arranged, adequate to build almost two Starship tank and engine units – domes excluded.
In easy terms, SpaceX has turned away from the more boutique style of prototype construction used for Starhopper and Starship Mk1 and is now constructing Starship SNxx hardware fairlly quickly. At the same time, the surrounded manufacturing space available to SpaceX is most likely going to increase twofold before this week is out. Eventually, SpaceX’s March 2020 Starship SN01 flight debut aim is rapidly becoming less and less irrational by the day.