SpaceX’s Starship fully-stacked briefly for fit checks
Progress has been expedited by an order of magnitude as a fully-stacked Starship launch system made its historic debut last week in Boca Chica, Texas.
In an historic moment akin to the early days of the Apollo and Shuttle programs, Starship Ship 20 was mated to the Super Heavy Booster 4 in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 2021, as teams at SpaceX’s build site began lifting the behemoth vehicle by crane.
The meticulous process was made possible by a large group of SpaceX employees and contractors positioned high above the ground on large cherry pickers.
Aided by radios, hand signaling, and even several drones, Ship 20 was eventually hoisted and mated into place at around 8 a.m. CST (13:00 UTC) atop the company’s Orbital Launch Mount. Standing some 394 feet (120 meters) tall, Starship has dethroned the 363-foot (110-meter) Saturn V as the tallest rocket ever built.
Ship 20 was de-stacked about an hour after being mated into place where it was then rolled back to the nearby build site at Starbase.
The joining of the two vehicles came just a day after Ship 20 was rolled out to the Orbital Launch Tower. Featuring thousands of hexagon-shaped thermal protection tiles, the spacecraft was also given an updated aerodynamic design with slimmer control fins than previous iterations as the rear control fins were installed.
Ship 20 includes six total Raptor engines, including three Raptor Vacuum engines that will be used while the vehicle is in space.
Now back at the high bay, Ship 20 is expected to have its thermal protection system finished. Exactly how long this will take is unclear. A number of tests, checks and evaluations are required on both Ship 20 and Booster 4 before this vehicle can make its first orbital flight test.
There is also the matter of completing a Federal Aviation Administration environmental review, which could take several more months.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.