Rocket duel: Starship prototypes being built in Texas and Florida
Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer of SpaceX, confirmed via Twitter on May 14 that Starship prototypes are being built at Cape Canaveral in Florida as well as the company’s Boca Chica Beach site near Brownsville.
“SpaceX is doing simultaneous competing builds of Starship in Boca Chica Texas & Cape Canaveral Florida,” he tweeted in response to a photo posted of a Starship prototype under construction at a Cocoa, Fla., industrial park.
The process is also cooperative, Musk noted, writing that “any insights gained by one team must be shared with the other,” though neither team is required to incorporate the other’s ideas.
The first Starship prototype, dubbed “Starhopper,” was constructed at Boca Chica. The first tethered test firing of the non-orbital prototype’s single Raptor rocket engine took place on April 3. A follow-up test took place late on April 5, a brief video posted by Musk clearly showing the hopper lifting off the pad a few feet to tether limit.
April 5 was the most recent test at Boca Chica. Musk tweeted on April 26 that crews were preparing for untethered hover tests at the site. Earlier this month, Starhopper was fitted with appear to be attitude-control thrusters, necessary to helping maintain control during hover tests.
Cameron County, meanwhile, has approved another round of closures this month for SpaceX to resume testing. County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. announced May 14 the temporary closing of S.H. 4 from Oklahoma Avenue to Boca Chica Beach on May 28 between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Alternative closure dates are May 29 and/or May 30, according to a statement from Trevino.
A second Starship prototype, this one with orbital capability, according to Musk, is under construction at SpaceX’s Boca Chica yard, about a mile and a half inland from the launch site, which lies less than 3,000 feet from the waters of the Gulf. The company is moving quickly to develop its Starship and Super Heavy (formerly Falcon Spaceship and Big Falcon Rocket, respectively), with the ultimate goal of getting humans to Mars.
The two Starhopper tests so far have involved one methane and liquid oxygen-powered Raptor engine. Musk also tweeted on May 14 that a fourth Raptor has been completed at SpaceX’s engine works in Hawthorne, Calif., a fifth is under construction and the company’s focus now is upping the build rate of Raptors Serial No. 6 through 10. The engines are being tested at SpaceX’s testing facility in McGregor.
The actual Super Heavy booster will require 31 Raptor engines to push the 100-passenger Starship into space, while Starship itself will feature another seven engines, according to SpaceX. Musk said in March that both the Starship and Super Heavy will be built simultaneously at Boca Chica and Cape Canaveral.
In addition to gearing up for more Starhopper testing at Boca Chica and making progress on an orbital prototype, SpaceX has poured a large concrete slab for a second hangar-sized metal building, under construction, at the Boca Chica yard.
“Both sites will make many Starships,” Musk tweeted on May 14. “This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both.”