Starship SN11 takes a breather, Super Heavy BN1 takes shape
SN11 Friday update, for March 19, 2021: The test campaign for Starship appears to be taking a ‘Spring Break weekend’, with no additional static fire attempts following Monday’s partial test. Due to State Highway 4 being heavily used on weekends for public access to Boca Chica Beach, tests requiring road closure generally do not occur on weekends.
Though some were anticipated, no further road closures for HWY 4 materialized through the week, indicating the expected second static fire attempt will now happen no earlier than Monday. Additionally, Flight TFRs which had been posted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday have also been withdrawn, leaving a potential flight date up in the air (pun intended), awaiting the issuance of new TFRs. It is highly anticipated that when SN11 does fly, a successful landing will follow – the second for this design, following that of SN10.
Back at the High Bay build facility however, SpaceX had a surprise in store for Thursday. All eyes turned to Super Heavy Booster prototype BN1, which had been waiting patiently in two sections behind SN11 during its time there, as the massive “Tankzilla” crane SpaceX uses for stacking operations was extended to its tallest configuration yet in order to integrate the two BN1 sections. This was a first of its kind occurrence, with a section of the High Bay roof actually needing to be removed in order to allow the crane hook to descend through it.
Super Heavy is the name given to the massive Stage 1 booster which will propel Starship on its operational missions, and its prototype iterations are taking on the “BN” (or Booster Number) serial number naming scheme. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and Chief Engineer, stated on Twitter late yesterday that BN1 will not actually fly, but rather be a production pathfinder to help the company develop the most efficient methods for producing and transporting the mammoth 70m tall stage. BN2 on the other hand is destined to fly, possibly in a short hop test similar to the early Starship SNs.
It is undeniably interesting to note the timing of this stacking event, happening immediately following NASA’s second SLS Green Run Hotfire test, which appears to have completed nominally. Super Heavy will function as that rocket’s direct commercial heavy-lift competitor for sending humans to the Moon, and one day Mars.
When fully integrated with a Starship on top, the entire launch system will be known as “Starship Super Heavy” and stand at a whopping 120 meters tall – the tallest space launch system ever conceived, taller than NASA’s Saturn V and SLS itself. It was an absolute banner day for space fans all around the world, as the race to orbit for these two massively capable launch systems has officially heated up.
With the Green Run test campaign now complete, SLS will be refurbished and then shipped to Cape Canaveral, while BN1 is headed to the test stand as soon as SpaceX is confident of a rollout procedure for the unprecedented test article. The ultimate and ambitious goal as stated by Musk himself on Twitter: to work up to the first orbital test flight of a fully stacked configuration, as early as July of this year.
Nicholas D'Alessandro was born and raised in Southwest Florida. The seeds of his interest in Space Exploration were planted when the Shuttle's sonic boom upon re-entry would reverberate through his childhood home even across the state; the knowledge that a real life spacecraft was passing overhead and could have that effect was fascinating to him. A middle school field trip to the Kennedy Space Center cemented that fascination, and with an additional interest in the bleeding edge of automotive technology and Teslas, it was the story of Elon Musk's path to Cape Canaveral with SpaceX that finally led Nicholas to move to the Space Coast and, after joining Spaceflight Insider in 2020, begin documenting the dawning era of commercial spaceflight.