SpaceX’s first Super Heavy booster hop “a few months” away, says Elon Musk

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the first prototype of a Starship booster – known as Super Heavy – could be finished and ready for flight testing just “a few months” from now.

Standing about as tall as an entire two-stage Falcon 9 rocket at 70 meters (230 ft) tip to tail, the Super Heavy booster tasked with getting Starship about a quarter of the way to orbit will unequivocally be the largest rocket stage ever built. Outfitted with up to 28 Raptors capable of producing more than ~7300 metric tons (~16.2 million lbf) of thrust at liftoff, Super Heavy will also be the most powerful rocket ever built, respectively outclassing Saturn V and SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy by a factor of more than two and three.

While it could be awhile before SpaceX is ready to risk more than two-dozen Raptor engines on a single vehicle, Super Heavy will be able stand on the back of a wealth of experience gained from a full year of Starship production and testing.

As previously discussed on Teslarati, SpaceX has been gradually working on the first Super Heavy booster over the last few months despite a clear primary focus on Starship production and SN8’s high-altitude launch debut. Most recently, the first eight-Raptor thrust structure, a custom common (i.e. shared) tank dome, and an extra-wide transfer tube needed to feed liquid methane through Super Heavy’s liquid oxygen tank were spotted at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas factory.

Some two-dozen of the 31 or 32 Super Heavy BN1 rings remaining are simply waiting to be stacked. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Super Heavy BN1’s common dome was recently sleeved with three of those steel rings. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Uniquely large methane transfer tubes – likely meant for BN1 – arrived in Texas in November. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Aerial photos captured by RGV Aerial Photography on December 22nd also revealed that SpaceX appears to be simultaneously stacking two separate sections of Super Heavy BN1 inside an ~80-meter (~260 ft) tall high bay. While it’s impossible to know exactly where SpaceX stands in the process of assembling what it’s deemed Booster Number 1 (BN1), at least a dozen rings are in the stacking stage with another one or two dozen awaiting their addition to the main booster ‘stack’.

Combined, SpaceX may already have all ~38 of the steel rings it needs to complete Super Heavy BN1 staged around the build site. With BN1’s forward dome already into the stacking process in the high bay and its common dome more or less ready to join it, the only major parts missing are the first Super Heavy engine section and landing legs. It’s not even clear if BN1 will receive the fin-like legs depicted in SpaceX’s official renders, so that engine section is all that truly remains.

To complete what Musk has described as a short hop test powered by as few as two Raptor engines, it’s likely that the first Super Heavy booster will be far closer to a grounded structural test article than something capable of sending a 2000-ton Starship on its way to orbit. It’s even possible that SpaceX will build another test tank to independently stress test Super Heavy’s new engine section and eight-Raptor “thrust puck” before risking some three-dozen steel rings.

Super Heavy’s landing ‘fins’ and massive steel gridfins are visible in this official 2019 render. (SpaceX)

Regardless, if SpaceX really could be ready for Super Heavy’s first hop test within “a few months,” BN1 integration is about to speed up substantially. Stay tuned for updates!

Original Publication by Eric Ralph at Teslarati.

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