SpaceX Orbital Prototype Starship Pieces Coming Together

The body of the orbital prototype of the SpaceX Starship is coming together. There are still seven Raptor engines to be built and added and a lot of Starhopper testing before the orbital Starship starts test flights.

In January, Elon Musk tweeted that the first orbital Starship upper stage prototype should be completed by June 2019.

Elon Musk has targeted the Super Heavy Starship to reach orbit by 2020. A few months ago, Elon had said the odds of making it to orbit by 2020 are at least 60% and rising rapidly. The Starship upper might be able to reach orbit without payload.

Nextbigfuture believes reaching orbit with the Starhopper will be late in 2020 or 2021. If the Starhopper was making more progress with hop tests and new Raptor engine production then SpaceX might reach orbit sooner.

Although the body of the orbital Starship is coming together, the months of Starhops and flying the Starhopper higher and higher has not happened. A large number of Raptor engines are not built. It seems that there is quite a bit of work with the engines as the single Raptor engine in Starhopper was uninstalled.

SOURCES- Twitter, Elon Musk, SpaceX
Written By Brian Wang,

20 thoughts on “SpaceX Orbital Prototype Starship Pieces Coming Together”

  1. It looks suspiciouly like a grain silo. BTW 20 points for working Barkkeeper’s Friend into the thread…that stuff is magic on SS.

  2. Yes, it would have taken a second launch to get it near the ISS. But, it should have been fairly easy to attach the tank to the second shuttle as they are made to attach togther. A spacewalk to add regular bolts, and then take them out when they get it near the ISS. That second mission would likely have room to take more stuff up…like the aeroponics equipment for growing stuff in the tank.

  3. Even if possible, NASA would have to buy them at full price for that purpose. The whole point of reusability to SpaceX is to keep reusing them. Anyway, NASA wouldn’t because there are so few pieces of junk that come around on their orbit that are big enough to bother the ISS that it’s a lot cheaper to just move the station, which is what they’ve done.

  4. I wouldn’t be TOO surprised if there was some unspoken thing like
    “We did a design study where if we left off the thermal protection and other requirements for reentry then it has SSTO capability based on the current architecture but assuming a throw-away single use”

    That sort of thing gets spoken about internally, and then when you mention it casually to someone who doesn’t have the background it comes out as we see here.

  5. A lot of people were proposing taking the external tank up into orbit, and the numbers looked good for doing it. NASA was flatly unwilling. I guess Skylab left a bad taste in their mouths, even though it was a success. They’ve got a serious addiction to bespoke hardware rather than making do.

    Ironically, taking the tank the rest of the way into orbit would have actually increased the shuttle’s payload capacity; They spent fuel making sure it would be on the right trajectory for reentry to land in a specific safe area, sacrificing about a ton of payload in the process.

    Of course, you couldn’t “just” take the external tank into orbit, and leave it there. It would have been in a relatively low orbit which would rapidly decay, without something to orient to minimize frontal area, and at least some station keeping.

    I think that was the real deal breaker, nobody wanted to spend THAT money without an immediate application for the tanks. Even after NASA was persuaded to take the proposal seriously, nobody stepped up to take on that part of the job.

  6. Aero drag is usually considerably less than gravity drag, and going slower through the lower atmosphere increases gravity drag even more. As a practical matter, it’s hard to get to LEO for less than 9000 m/s.

  7. Maybe if you go slower through the lower atmosphere you can reduce drag enough. Pour on the power after you are already 20 miles up and through most of the atmosphere.

    One interesting try is to have different shape nozzles progressively closer to the design of the second stage nozzles, and throttle them so that you are using more power in the engines closer to the optimal shape for the air density at any given moment. You have got 31 engines to work with…no reason they all have to have identical nozzles…or they all have to be fed the same amount of fuel at the same time.

  8. SuperHeavy is not a SSTO either, it’s a first stage, it’s not supposed to reach LEO. Starship is the second stage in order to reach orbit.

  9. How much of a discount do you get when you order 5 tons of Barkeeper’s Friend in the handy pallet size?

  10. A SuperHeavy core, even with no Starship or payload on it, can only generate about 8600 m/s of delta-v. That’s at least 400 m/s short of being able to make LEO.

  11. See the tweet above, in Brian’s post. The thing that’s puzzling is that the numbers don’t work, based on what we know about Starship’s dry mass, prop capacity, and Raptor thrust and specific impulse. That means that Elon is either BS’ing us a bit, or that one of those stated parameters has changed. I’d like to know which one(s).

  12. If you went into orbit with the whole thing, you could convert the first stage into usable pressurized space for a space station. That might be more volume than the ISS. Definitely a fixer upper though.

    I thought for decades that one shuttle launch could be done that did not jettison the external tank and it could be used in space as part of the ISS or just close to the ISS where you could do bigger things…maybe aeroponics. You could grow all kinds of stuff in a big tank. I think if the Shuttle was launched bare bones, with 2 astronauts, it could have been done. They jettison it at only 1.5 km/s short of orbital velocity, and it is only 1/3 of the weight while the Shuttle is 2/3 when they are connected.

    ISS pressurizable volume is 932 cubic meters. First stage Starhopper is approximately 4,000 cubic meters. You should be able to grow quite a bit of veggies in there.

    You could also put it in orbit in front of the ISS as a protective shield from debris Maybe one in front and one in back at a couple miles away. Anything that would be likely to hit the ISS would hit these tanks first. And stainless should not shatter either or make a bunch of paint flecks which are very hazardous in space.

  13. It is not pointless, since you can test re-entry heating by going nearly to orbital velocity. But as an operational payload carrier, yes, zero payload is not much use.

  14. He stated in a tweet that this *could* be an SSTO but with no cargo. Which would be pointless[which he stated].

  15. Did I miss an announcement in which Elon stated that is was to be single stage from earth surface to LEO? My impression was that it was to be a 2 stage to orbit rocket. I I understand it is to be single stage from lunar surface to LEO, which requires a small enough delta V to be fairly easy.

  16. I still don’t understand how Starship can even theoretically be an SSTO. Even if you believe that the dry mass is only 85 tonnes (which gives a ridiculously low structural coefficient), the thrust-to-GLOW is still less than 1.1, which means that gravity drag will be large. Starship can just barely generate 9200 m/s of delta-v. That’s nowhere near enough for this kind of gravity drag.

    You can start getting close if the dry mass is only 80 tonnes and the prop is 1105 tonnes. That’ll give you almost 9400 m/s of delta-v, which is maybe enough to deal with the extra gravity drag.

    That Elon was still sticking to this story in December might be significant. Maybe they’ve gone a bit bigger with fuel tanks?

  17. Somebody get out the grit and give that starship a heavy buff and burnish… it looks worse than an old World War II plane that kids climb over on a playground..

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