Spaceflight Insider

Starship SN11 takes a breather, Super Heavy BN1 takes shape

The completed Super Heavy BN1 booster stack illuminated at night in the High Bay, as seen from the LabPadre “Sentinel” live cam. Credit: Louis Balderas Jr. / @LabPadre

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 Additionally, Flight TFRs which had been posted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday have also been withdrawn, leaving a potential flight date up in the air (pun intended), awaiting the issuance of new TFRs.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.

A cloud of dust forms as SpaceX’s Starship SN10 test article prepares to land in Boca Chica, Texas, March 3, 2021. Credit: Nicholas D’Alessandro / Spaceflight Insider

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.

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a second hot fire test, Thursday, March 18, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The four RS-25 engines fired for the full-duration of 8 minutes during the test and generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust. Photo Credit: (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

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.

UPDATE [8:20 P.M. EST, March 19] – Per the Cameron County website, road closures are now in place for Monday March 22nd (with a backup date of Tuesday March 23rd) for “non-flight testing“, and Wednesday March 24th (with a backup date of Thursday March 25th) for “space flight activities“. All closures have a window of 7am CST – 3pm CST. This indicates that SpaceX will likely attempt the second static fire of SN11 over the course of Monday and Tuesday, with a flight attempt expected either Wednesday or Thursday – pending acceptable results of the static fire.



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.

Reader Comments

I am hopeful starship 11 will land and not explode, the 3 engines burn at touch down should make for a softer landing. Thanks To Elon Musk we will get to Mars!!

Gregory Forkner

I don’t think they can touch down with all three lit. That would be too much thrust they could never come down. If they reduce thrust too much on a lit raptor it will flame out on them that’s why they’ve been turning two off.

Fantastic – so exciting to see such a remarkable pace of development in the space industry at the moment.

Starship will also be useful for the Gérard O Neill high frontier space habitat concept.

I’m 76 years old and gave my first talk to the Seattle Astronomy Association when I was11. I talked about the solar system in front of about 100 members.Being a Trekkie and now a Space’xxie, this and family is my life. I hope I’m alive to see the 1st manned flight to MRs. If I’m not, maybe they could drop my ashes off on the moon.

Roderick Reilly

This avid SpaceX fan says no way will there be an orbital test flight of the full starship heavy configuration by this Summer.

Next year, but not not this year.

Why? Too much testing yet to be done.

No one needs to go to Mars

Mike Sunderland

Doubting Elon Musk is a mistake many have made. Good thing you don’t have money on the line.

No one needs to stay on Earth

Constantine Khripin

How can they possibly iterate their designs this fast??? That is a lot of stainless steel to rejigger!

The raptors can be throttled. They need all three lit in irde to more finelncintrol an stabilize with vectoring commands on all three engines vs one. It’ll work. Watch an see

Columbus didn’t need to sail to the New World either. Henry Ford didn’t need to make any cars either. Yet they did and the world changed because men did great things that men like you didn’t believe they should do.

Maurizio Pighin

My thoughts are with you but ashes on the moon only if something
goes wrong, Mars is the place.

George A Peart

Thankfully we have a genius that came along. Elon aggressive posture to space and spaceship development will let us get to mars soon. this is long overdue. NASA is a good example of the governmental organization failure to progress and lack of flexibility.

With all the billions of taxpayer dollars we have spent on the SLS, the private launch sector would be on Mars already. It is becoming abundantly clear that the defense contractors have organized themselves in such a way as to make a government-controlled space program cost-prohibitive. Time to cut our losses and go with Space X and Blue Origin.

You can wait here if you’d like.

“The earth is simply too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in”.
Robert A. Heinlein.

Is it just me, or does this look too tall and thin for a viable rocket? How much does the wind have to blow for the fully stacked heavy booster + starship to topple? I wouldn’t like to be sat on top of that thing! Very much looking forward to seeing this work.

No one needs to go to Mars? lol. You sound like grandma.

Richard McKenna

Ad another raptor engine with all 4 coming down half throttle would be my suggestion?

No one really needs to do anything, but fortune favors the bold.

Martin Freedman

I beg to differ. There are a few politician that should be sent to Mars.

Kevin M O'Connor

I do.

nobody needs to go to Yellowstone either, but there we are.

Mike Sunderland. I love your comment. It is so true. I myself chuckled at Elon, many times. Never again!! If he puts his mind and his team to it, there is nothing this man cant do..

With the advancement of warp theory into warp plausible, is starship even needed??? If we Launch starship right now to neptune ill bet a warp capable ship will beat it there. Just saying…. long live space-x!!!!!

If tintin and professor calculus can do it…so can spacex. Whoo hoo.

No one needs to live

Michael Godfrey

No one needed to go to the moon but we did that because we could. It also lead to some scientific breakthroughs. I wouldn’t say that no one needs to go to Mars because we really do need to go to Mars & Titan & Europe. Right now the human race has all its eggs in one basket. Should something happen to Earth via Asteroid, nuclear war or plague thats the end of mankind. By establishing other colonies we safeguard ourselves from total extinction.

I hope I live to see the day for the first manned expedition to the surface of the Sun – I wonder if Elon is planning on beating everyone there. Golly, even Captain Kirk didn’t do that! He’l have to land at night though, because everyone knows it’s too hot to land in the daytime.

Surely, you don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket.

Hey Elon. Why not build a launch platform on the highest mountain you could get? Instead of sea level get a little help to launch with some altitude? Reasons why not. Thin air? Not flat? Lol. Idk just wondering not critiquing. I admire how you hold your hat with your company’s. Thanks

Agree. Nothing would be beneficial to go to oxygen to support life like on Earth

Human race is a plague. Doesn’t matter where we go. Humans simply invade and kill whatever is there with our twitter and Instagram feeds.

It’s not a starship. If they really want to go into space why just build a shuttlecraft that can fly up like a jet, enter space with rockets and return like a normal plane.Save money and time, they just want to play more games.

Humans are meant to explore and understand
nature. Go Elan.

John Mothershead

“Space is the empty place next to the full place where we live. I believe we will be true to our nature and go there.”
_James R. Arnold, 1980

Walter Harris, superficially your thinking makes sense. However, given the amount of (non government) money put on the line, I believe it is safe to assume they have considered the option and its not viable. Virginia can do it because they aren’t really going to space, just very LEO. To break orbit takes a lot of force, and flying nearly horizontal just doesn’t do it.

My first guess: first orbital flight with the starship sustem WILL occur until the end of 2021.
My second guess: First super-heavy will not explode on the landing spot.

Es necesario que el ser humano trascienda su naturaleza. Debemos llegar y poblar Marte y otros planetas.

{Editor’s approximate translation: “It is necessary for human beings to transcend their nature. We must reach and populate Mars and other planets.”

These insights are brilliant. Regarding oxygen. You know, you make oxygen from ‘dirt’. So. They can at any planet. Not from ash.

Tony Rook, launching close to the equator gives the rocket a huge boost because of the Earth’s rotation is fastest there.
Jason H. Virgin just goes straight up and straight down. No LEO. They become weightless only for the short time between the rocket engine shutting down, and the spacecraft re-entering atmosphere. They even land at the same place that they took off from.

Space X is truly paving the way forward for the future Space industry. This will include asteroid mining and moving heavy industries off Earth.

Ich zittere diesem Moment mit jeder Faser meines Körpers entgegen, ich bin zwar 81 aber wohl eher 18 und staune und brenne tief in meiner Seele für diesen Erfolg, so wie ich damals gezittert habe, als Saturn 11, schwer, wie ein leichter Kreuzer, sich auf seinem Feuer-Strahl hin zum Mond erhob um Mutter Erde zu verlassen, vielleicht treffen sie endlich dort auf dem Mond, dieses Mal das ARKONIDEN SCHIFF mit Crest an Bord. Wohl an, olympisches Feuer fliege, so wie Phönix aus der Asche….

aus der asche steigt der geist des Menschen, der Funke der Erkenntnis, um unter den sternen zu wohnen… vogel breite deine Feuerflügel aus – und fliege, hoooch und weiiit hinaus… FIAT LUX. !!

Hey Lars,is you a Navy vet outta Japan? Ol’ buddy BooBoo, Maddox, Madman Schmider here, if so. In Peoria, Il. Gimme a shout.

Zippy the Wonder Puppy

@ Walter Harris
Go try to build some space planes yourself on the physic simulator called Kirbal. It will become clear to you why they considered this option and discarded it for the time being.

“Super Heavy will function as that rocket’s [SLS’s] direct commercial heavy-lift competitor for sending humans to the Moon, and one day Mars.”

The Falcon Heavy is also a direct competitor since NASA has already selected it as the launch vehicle for the first two components of the lunar Gateway.

El oxígeno se puede obtener a partir del CO2 o del agua que parece ser en Marte hay en abundancia. El desafío estimula la imaginación y la creatividad.

(Editor’s approximate translation: “Oxygen can be obtained from CO2 or from water, which seems to be abundant on Mars. The challenge stimulates imagination and creativity.”)

WALTER HARRIS, a great explanation of why it’s not really helpful to try and fly up as a plane or launch from a mountain:

may be using four raptor engines and switching them off on alternate diagonal geometry may reduce the air tension..for softer landing.

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