SpaceX speeds up work on new Starship with “hundreds” of upgrades

Beginning almost immediately after Starship SN11’s midair explosion earlier this week, SpaceX has accelerated work on a new Starship prototype upgraded with “hundreds of improvements.”

In November 2020, Musk first revealed plans to implement “major [Starship] upgrades” as early as prototype SN15, though the improvements involved in the first apparent Starship ‘block’ change were never detailed. On 30 March 2021, the same day as Starship SN11’s foggy, ill-fated launch debut, Musk confirmed that the SN15+ block upgrade would feature “hundreds of design improvements [to] structures, avionics, software, and [Raptor engines].”

Around the same time, after more than two months of little to not visible activity, work on Starship SN15 rapidly restarted in an apparent bid to achieve Musk’s stated goal of rolling the rocket to the launch pad “in a few days.”

Possibly due to a significant shift in focus from Starship mass-production to the construction of Boca Chica’s first orbital-class launch pad and flight tests of prototypes SN8 through SN11, Starship SN15 has been in the stacking and assembly phase since the turn of the new year. About a month ago, in early March, the rocket’s tank section was stacked to its full height and has been making slow progress in the weeks since – clearly not a pressing priority.

The day after SN11 exploded, SpaceX stacked the last two pieces of Starship SN11’s nose and joined their plumbing and avionics runs, more or less completing the upper third of the prototype. Both nosecone flaps were installed a few days prior. On the same day, March 31st, SpaceX rolled Starship SN15’s tank section (the bottom two-thirds of the rocket) out of Boca Chica’s ‘mid bay’ assembly building and installed both after flaps before moving the vehicle into the ‘high bay.’

SN15’s nose cone and rings await their final assembly step on March 27th. (NASASpaceflight – Nomadd)
Rapidly fitted with aft flaps hours prior, SN15’s tank section rolls to the high bay on March 31st to prepare for nose installation. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

With those steps complete, Starship SN15 should be just a few days away from nose installation, at which point it will need just a few more days of work before SpaceX will be ready to install the rocket on a transporter and roll it to the launch pad. It’s not implausible that that move will happen as early as next week, perhaps even leaving enough time for an acceptance test or two before the weekend.

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