The recent drone imagery of the emerging SpaceX facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, dozens of SpaceXers and local contractors have gathered in recent weeks on the company's Starship prototype site a collection of parts to a handful of large assemblies for the company apparently first full starship funnel. Similar to the Grasshopper by Falcon 9 and the F9R (Reusable) Hop Test article, this bulky Starship funnel – an impressive 9m (29.5ft) wide and ~ 40m (131ft) high – appears to be almost the first integrated BFR Becoming hardware that flies and hopefully supports a productive series of low-altitude hop tests from a heavily prepared South Texas pad. [1
– Austin Barnard (@ austinbarnard45) December 30, 2018
Since then SpaceX chief Elon Musk went on Twitter to get a bunch of updates and Providing photos of the company's dramatically redesigned BFR (now Starship and Super Heavy) staff and local contractors worked around the clock building the first complete integrated Starship test article. Starhopper was from the beginning a spectacle and scandal dedicated to low-speed and low-altitude hop testing, thanks to an unshakeable visual aesthetic reminiscent of 1950s science fiction or a complicated and slow-burning April Fool prank.
As of now, tens of tweets and tweet responses from Musk over the past week provide extensive support for the unorthodox new design. They replace carbon composites and an ablating heat shield for a new stainless steel alloy and liquid cooling – and also a clear indication that the object taking shape in South Texas is actually a Starship funnel, eventually on a pillar a Raptor engine exhaust gas will rise into the sky. These inaugural hop tests may start as early as March or April 2019. Musk says that this highly unusual Starship hop test program can not be judged simply by his cover, at least not so easily.
Even for SpaceX Building a prototype massive orbital spacecraft in the aerospace class outdoors – right next to the muddy Texas swamp and the Gulf of Mexico – is no less than totally unexpected, especially in an industry where rocket hardware is routinely produced indoors if not in clean rooms for medical purposes. The most likely explanation here is that we are seeing something more with the Aeroshell or Cocoon of a Starship funnel, with a lot of thought and discussion that ultimately turns up on this curiosity as the fastest, most affordable and data rich way to complete BFR testing.
A welder can attach a patch layer over each interlayer gap on December 30th. (NASASpaceflight / u / bocachicagal)
Here is a sling attached to the lower half of Starhopper before the first lift and move. (NASASpaceflight / u / bocachicagal)
Before the move … (NASASpaceflight / u / bocachicagal)
And after the move. (NASASpaceflight / u / bocachicagal)
The leftmost model was assembled from the photos of the NASA spaceflight user bocachicagal by Thomas Lacroix. The TL; DR of this is that Starhopper seems to be a solid three quarters of the full 2018 FSO. (SpaceX, NASA Spaceflight, Thomas Lacroix)
In this speculative case, the sensitive liquid methane and liquid oxygen fuel tanks, as well as Starhopper's Triple Raptor thrust structure and spaghetti plumbing in SpaceX, Hawthorne, California, would manufacture factory or McGregor test facilities prior to Shipped to Boca Chica for integration into the big structures there. These raptors, fuel tanks, and a general program of customization optimizations are next on the list of significant events to be expected with Starhopper over the next few months.
The latter task has already begun and shows in the form of sheet metal finishing by essentially sewing loose panel gaps between and within the layered sections of the shiny, silver Starhopper nose. SpaceX staff also carried out the first relocation of the fully integrated hopper area that was previously built and then sat on a pre-fabricated concrete stand that may or may not be from a water tank design. While the movement was easy, the base and nose sections are now approximately side-by-side along the apron of the SpaceX tent, where a third Starhopper fuselage segment is being built.
2019 will be wild and March / April just can not come soon enough.
For timely updates, on-site prospects, and unique insights into the SpaceX Rocket Rescue fleet, check out our brand new LaunchPad and LandingZone newsletters!