SpaceX churning out Starship Super Heavy booster parts ahead of first stacking

SpaceX is churning out dozens of steel rings to assemble Starship's first Super Heavy booster. (NASASpaceflight - bocachicagal)

SpaceX is busy churning out dozens of steel rings for Starship’s first Super Heavy booster, the assembly of which CEO Elon Musk says could be just “a few weeks” out.

Significantly more than twice the height of Starship’s main propellant tank and engine section, Super Heavy boosters will stand an incredible 70+ meters (230+ feet) tall once complete – the same height or taller than an entire two-stage Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket. Unlike Starship, Super Heavy will have no conical nose section and will be built – like Starship tanks – entirely out of simple steel rings.

Each measuring 9m (~30 ft) in diameter and 1.8m (~6 ft) tall, SpaceX will need to stack some 38 of those steel rings to complete Super Heavy’s propellant tanks, interstage, and engine section. Impressively, SpaceX is making so much progress building Super Heavy subsections that the start of the first booster assembly will likely have to wait until a facility (“high bay”) tall enough is ready to stack them.

SpaceX is churning out dozens of steel rings to assemble Starship’s first Super Heavy booster. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Thanks to handy labels affixed to each ring group and the watchful eye of local resident and photographer Mary (also known as BocaChicaGal), no less than six confirmed sections of the first Super Heavy booster (SH1) have already been spotted in Boca Chica. Ranging from two to four rings tall, the first of those ring sections was spotted on September 22nd, followed by another on the 28th.

The first Super Heavy rings were spotted on September 22nd. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Within the first few days of October, that doubled to four, five, and six confirmed stacks, as well as several more likely candidates with labels hidden from publicly accessible viewpoints. Additionally, Musk’s recent note that the liquid oxygen tank of Super Heavy boosters will have “longitudinal stiffeners” – also known as stringers – meant that a trio of five-ring stacks with said stringers were also candidates for Super Heavy #1.

Assuming one of those three five-ring stacks is reserved for the first functional Starship nose section, SpaceX may already have 30+ Super Heavy rings – of ~38 total – awaiting the completion of high bay construction.

Roughly 80 meters (~260 ft) tall, SpaceX’s Boca Chica high bay is essentially an enclosed gantry crane that will be used to stack and outfit Super Heavy boosters – the final steps of production. SpaceX and its contractors began building the high bay in early July and Musk says that the massive building is just “a few weeks” away from completion. As of October, the structure is essentially complete, as is the wall cladding. Roughly half of the building’s roof is also complete, leaving a small amount of work left before running power, HVAC, and plumbing is all that remains.

Unsurprisingly, the SpaceX CEO also says that the high bay will eventually be outfitted with a “giant gantry crane,” though Super Heavy booster stacking will likely begin before then. In the meantime, there’s a good chance that SpaceX will start stacking Super Heavy subsections in the existing Starship mid bay, hopefully leaving just a few big stacks in the high bay to complete the first booster.

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Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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