Big Texas Will Be Production Site For SpaceX’s Biggest Rocket

SpaceX said it will develop and build its biggest spacecraft to date — Starship/Super Heavy – at its facility in South Texas instead of at the Port of Los …

SpaceX said it will develop and build its biggest spacecraft to date — Starship/Super Heavy – at its facility in South Texas instead of at the Port of Los Angeles as announced in April 2018.

Starship/Super Heavy was previously known as the BFR (for Big Falcon Rocket).

Development and manufacturing of the company’s Falcon 9/Heavy, Merlin and Raptor will continue at the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters. The announcement of the move to South Texas, however, did not eliminate the possibility SpaceX still plans to develop an oceanside factory in the near future for Starship/Super Heavy.

What is clear is that SpaceX will assemble and test its Starship prototype in Texas instead of California.

To streamline operations, SpaceX is developing and will test the Starship test vehicle at its site in south Texas, said a SpaceX statement. The company said this decision does not impact its current manufacture, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX will, however, continue recovery operations of its reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft at the Port of Los Angeles.

SpaceX is making a lot of noise about the development of the Starship “hopper,” a prototype of Starship/Super Heavy. The first short test flights for the hopper are to begin this year.

Hopper will also be built in Texas (where SpaceX has a launch site) because the massive size of these launch vehicles makes them very difficult to transport by sea or land.

In 2018, SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell revealed that the estimated cost of moving a BFR-sized rocket from the company’s main Hawthorne factory to the Port of Los Angeles would average $5 million for a one-way trip.

She said this amount is almost 10% of the list price of an entirely new Falcon 9 rocket ($62 million). A BFR is nine meters tall.

As a result, SpaceX decided to build a permanent factory at a Port of Los Angeles dock known as Berth 240. Locating at the Port of Los Angeles would have allowed SpaceX to build a manufacturing facility on a 19-acre plot on Terminal Island.

The initial plan was for the huge BFRs to be then transported via barge and the Panama Canal to Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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SpaceX to build its Starship in Texas… for now

SpaceX was planning to build a new facility to construct its huge new vehicle designed to take people to the moon, Mars or even deeper into the solar …
starship

A SpaceX Starship prototype is assembled.

Elon Musk

For now, SpaceX will be assembling and testing its Starship prototype in Texas rather than California.

CBS Los Angeles reports that the rocket company helmed by Elon Musk has canceled a lease with the Port of Los Angeles.

SpaceX was planning to build a new facility to construct its huge new vehicle designed to take people to the moon, Mars or even deeper into the solar system.

“To streamline operations, SpaceX is developing and will test the Starship test vehicle at our site in south Texas,” reads an emailed statement from the company. “This decision does not impact our current manufacture, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Additionally, SpaceX will continue recovery operations of our reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft at the Port of Los Angeles.”

SpaceX and Musk have recently been showing off the development of the Starship “hopper” prototype in Texas that is set to begin short test flights this year. Musk explained via Twitter that the prototypes are being built in Texas where SpaceX has a launch site because “their size makes them very difficult to transport.”

The source info is incorrect. Starship & Raptor development is being done out of our HQ in Hawthorne, CA. We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2019

The lease with the Port of Los Angeles would have allowed SpaceX to build a manufacturing facility on a 19-acre parcel on the historic Terminal Island. The plan was for the huge assembled rockets to be then transported via barge and the Panama Canal to Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Los Angeles city councilman Joe Buscaino tweeted that he was “crushed” Musk’s company will no longer be expanding its presence at the port.

While I feel crushed about #SpaceX pulling the #SuperHeavy out of the @PortofLA, I feel confident that other innovators will see the huge value they get in San Pedro. (1/2)

— Joe Buscaino (@JoeBuscaino) January 16, 2019

The streamlining move also comes shortly after the company, based in the Los Angeles area, announced it would be laying off about 10 percent of its employees to “become a leaner company.”

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Starship & Raptor Development Staying in California

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – In response to reports of moving Starship and Super Heavy development to Texas, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, tweeted that the …

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SpaceX separates Starship prototype’s nose and tail to install giant propellant tanks

After a handful of days as an impressive monolith stood along the coastal wetlands of Texas, SpaceX technicians have once again separated the nose …

After a handful of days as an impressive monolith stood along the coastal wetlands of Texas, SpaceX technicians have once again separated the nose and tail sections of the first Starship prototype to allow additional integration and assembly work to continue. The craft’s three Raptors were also removed and stored nearby, shown to be barebones facsimiles standing in for flightworthy hardware that could arrive in the next month or two.

Up next, three or four propellant tank domes – currently being assembled and welded together on-site – will likely be installed inside the steel hull of the giant Starship prototype’s aft barrel section. Known as bulkheads, the installation of those tank domes will bring SpaceX one step closer to performing hop tests of the simultaneously bizarre, confusing, and beautiful craft.

Starship Hopper has been taken apart again (for the installation of the bulkhead etc.)

📸NSF’s BocaChicaGalhttps://t.co/DlTj9Qiijz

NSF Overview News Article by Thomas Burghardt @TGMetsFan98 for those catching up:https://t.co/rgliFAkBMCpic.twitter.com/DzSJzjSvoI

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 15, 2019

At this point in time, it appears that Starhopper is some odd combination of showmanship and actual hardware meant to test certain aspects of the first orbital Starship build, said to be complete as early as June 2019 by CEO Elon Musk. In the last week or so, SpaceX technicians attached and welded over Starhopper’s two sections – an aft barrel with legs and Raptors and a conical nose – and even did a sort of photoshoot, removing an on-site fence for a photo that Musk later shared while stating that the vehicle had “completed assembly”.

Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering. pic.twitter.com/k1HkueoXaz

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 11, 2019

One could argue that assembly is not exactly complete if the given product has to be pulled in half to install significant new components. Regardless, the external skin, aft barrel section, and rough landing legs do appear to be more or less complete from a very basic structural perspective, although there is clearly much work still to be done if the vehicle’s tank bulkheads haven’t been installed. Aside from completing the liquid oxygen and methane tank structure, SpaceX engineers and technicians will additionally have to complete the vehicle’s aft section, a massive 9m/30ft-diameter thrust structure capable of supporting the thrust of three Raptor engines and the weight of the entire fueled rocket. After that, plumbing, avionics, sensors, attitude thrusters, and more will still need to be completed and integrated.

If Starhopper’s nose section is largely a nonfunctioning aerodynamic shroud and propellant tanks will be primarily located inside the aft section, the fuel and oxidizer capacities of the vehicle’s tanks can be roughly estimated. Assuming a 9m/30ft diameter, the aft barrel stands around 13m/43ft tall. Assuming that the upper tank dome will reach a meter or two above the steel cylinder and that the aft Raptor thrust structure is also roughly 1-2 meters deep, Starhopper would have a total tank volume around 830 m3 or almost 30,000 cubic feet (~225,000 gallons), potentially 1000 metric tons of fuel or more if fully loaded.

SpaceX ships another huge propellant tank to South Texas BFR test sitehttps://t.co/4L7f74gwg3pic.twitter.com/KnHXOTCfAR

— TESLARATI (@Teslarati) October 24, 2018

SpaceX has two of these tanks and two others that are smaller but still massive. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal, 10/23/18)

Starhopper’s Raptor facsimiles were removed on January 15th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Meanwhile, giant 9m-diameter tank domes are being assembled and welded together a few hundred feet away from Starhopper. (NSF – bocachicagal)

Perhaps less than coincidentally, SpaceX already has liquid methane and oxygen tanks on-site (one is pictured above) with more than enough capacity to meet Starhopper’s potential propellant needs. However, it’s worth noting that current plans (and permissions) only show Starhopper traveling as high as 5km on flights that will last no more than 6 minutes, and CEO Elon Musk has indicated in no uncertain terms that the prototype will remain distinctly suborbital and is primarily focused on fleshing out Starship’s vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) capabilities before SpaceX proceeds to much more aggressive tests.

While it would be safe to take his schedule with many dozens of grains of salt, Musk noted last week that the first orbit-ready Starship could be finished as early as June 2019, while he expects Starhopper tests to begin as early as February or March. Where exactly that orbital Starship and its Super Heavy booster partner will be built is now much less clear after SpaceX has reportedly canceled a berth lease and thus its plans to build a BFR factory in the Port of Los Angeles. Will SpaceX build a BFR factory in Texas or will it build the orbital Starship en plein air like its Starhopper predecessor? And Super Heavy? Where will all three conduct static fires, hops, or launches from?

Stay tuned as more details and photos continue to bubble up from beneath the surface.


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SpaceX isn’t moving Starship development to southern Texas (update)

SpaceX’s decision to construct its Starship test vehicle in Texas may have just been the harbinger of things to come. The LA Times has claimed that …

The company explained its move as a bid to “streamline operations,” according to the Times although it didn’t elaborate on what that meant.

SpaceX is no stranger to Texas. It set up a rocket test facility for the Falcon 9 in McGregor, and it’s in the midst of constructing a southern Texas launch site in Brownsville that will be used for both Starship testing and commercial flights. It might just be a question of concentrating work in the area that Starship will effectively call home, at least for the foreseeable future.

Update 1/16/19 7:55PM ET: Elon Musk says the LA Times‘ “source info is incorrect.” SpaceX is building Starship prototypes in Texas, but the development of both the spacecraft and its accompanying Raptor engines remains in Hawthorne, California. We’ve updated the article accordingly.

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