After appearing unexpectedly at SpaceX’s Port Canaveral docks last month, several large pieces of Starship flight and manufacturing hardware were successfully shipped from Florida to Texas, arriving at the company’s Boca Chica build and launch site two weeks ago.
Previously discussed on Teslarati, the hardware transfer signals a significant shift in the development strategy for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship-Super Heavy launch vehicle. Most notably, SpaceX has chosen to prioritize Texas in the near term while the company’s Florida facilities instead aim for longer-tail milestones like the first Super Heavy-capable launch site and a new production facility located much closer to that launch site.
While the hardware SpaceX has sent over is relatively minor in the scope of producing a brand new Starship prototype, it will at least somewhat expedite the process thanks to the inclusion of what appears to be a completed propellant tank dome. Additionally, it’s possible that this December 8th hardware delivery will not be the last – a large amount of hardware remains at SpaceX’s Cocoa, Florida Starship production facility, including several ring sections and a nearly finished nose section, among a number of other parts.
As discussed last month, SpaceX has reportedly decided to more or less shutter its Cocoa facilities, transferring all permanent employees who wished to stay to Boca Chica, TX, Cape Canaveral, FL, or Hawthorne, CA facilities. SpaceX’s Starship presence in Florida is in no way done but it does sound like it’s in for at least several months of downtime.
“According to former Cocoa employee that spoke to reporter and channel creator Felix Schlang, SpaceX has reportedly transferred up to 80% of the Starship facility’s workforce to other groups in Florida and Texas. Instead of the friendly internal competition that pitted Cocoa against Boca Chica in the race to first Starship flight, SpaceX is temporarily slowing down its Florida build operations and will redirect as much of its workforce and resources as possible to Boca Chica.
Schlang’s source says that this will likely result in several months of relative downtime in Florida, while he was also told that Starship Mk2 and Mk4 are now effectively dead before arrival as a result of several challenging and reoccurring technical issues. Starship Mk2 likely shares some significant heritage with Starship Mk1, which lost its top during a pressure test. Roughly two-dozen steel Starship Mk4 rings may also be scrapped after SpaceX’s Florida team could not overcome a technical hurdle. Per the source, many of those single-weld steel rings were slightly different diameters, making it next to impossible to build a sound pressure vessel (i.e. Starship Mk4) with them.”
Teslarati.com — December 2nd, 2019
In line with that, SpaceX loaded transport ship GO Discovery with two large steel mounts and a finished tank dome originally believed to be intended for Starship Mk4 and Florida Starship production in general. Those parts arrived in Texas around five days later on December 8th and were rapidly moved from Port of Brownsville to SpaceX’s Boca Chica production facilities.
The ring-like steel structures will likely take the place of (or complement) the concrete structures SpaceX used to mount and assembly Starship Mk1. Likely significantly lighter, steel ring mounts allow far easier access underneath for technicians and engineers while also being much easier to transport in the event that SpaceX wants to reorganize its Starship ‘factory’.
Since arriving at the Boca Chica build site, SpaceX stored the assembly rings off to the side while the Starship Mk3 tank dome (i.e. bulkhead) was situated more centrally. So much is going on at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facilities that it’s no longer easy to determine what is being worked on just from observing, but it’s clear that the employees are working around the clock to prepare for Starship Mk3 assembly.
One or two new tank domes in various states of production are visible, contractors are constructing a warehouse-sized sprung structure (i.e. tent), and technicians are working to refine improved methods of forming the cylindrical steel rings that make up most of Starship. It can’t yet be said that Starship Mk3 has truly begun to take shape, but it’s clear that the goal is to ensure that the process is dramatically faster than it was with Starship Mk1, which took at least half a year to go from first ring stacking to pressure testing.
It’s safe to say that 2020 is going to be an incredibly busy and productive time for SpaceX’s next-generation rocket.
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