SpaceX stacking two ships at once for the first time in ten months

In late November, SpaceX began stacking two Starship prototypes simultaneously for the first time in ten months.

Known as the Starship S21 and S22, SpaceX began stacking this latest prototype inside Starbase’s “midbay” in mid-October – the first Starship assembly job seen in over two months and half. For about six months, SpaceX has focused much more on producing Super Heavy as it strives to thoroughly test a booster for the first time. In the meantime, assembly of Starships – which already have an impressive history of ground and flight testing – has slowed down, although production of Starship rooms does not have.

SpaceX builds spaceships by forming structures and rings from steel coils, sheets and billets. For noses, domes, and collecting tanks, laser- or waterjet-cut steel “dildos” (much like slices of pizza) are welded together. Rolls of sheet metal are unwound, cut into sections and welded into individual rings which are then stacked on top of each other and robot welded together around their circumference. These ring sections – 9 m (30 ft) wide and ranging from 2 to 4 rings high (3.6 to 7.3 m or 12 to 24 ft) – are then fitted with reinforcement rings and stringers. to add stiffness and strength.

A field of various Starship and Super Heavy rings, December 6, 2021. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Once this basic structure is completed, the parts are cut or welded to create structural supports, passages and supports for avionics hardware (batteries, wiring, power, communications), plumbing, mechanical systems, etc. In the case of ships, robotic arms also weld thousands of studs that eventually become anchors for the heat shield tiles. At one point, some partially finished ring sections are “sleeved” around tank domes, of which Starship and Super Heavy have three. Finally, at some point early in the “life” of a spacecraft or super-heavyweight, SpaceX begins to assemble the actual vehicle from this collection of different sections. While weeks or even months of work always precede this stage, the first stack is always the point at which SpaceX decides to turn those parts into an actual vehicle – never a warranty, no matter how far away those parts appear to be.

The approximately three-week journey of the front dome section of the S22 ship from the start of the heat shield installation to the day before the section rejoins the rest of the 22 ship’s tank stack. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

This is where Starship S21 and Starship S22 ended up around October 17th and November 21st. Six weeks later, now side by side in Starbase’s Mid Bay, the tank section of Ship 21 is fully stacked, and the tank section of Ship 22 is almost two-thirds complete. The nose of Ship 22 – a nose and a four-ring section – is still in two parts, while the nose of Ship 21 is fully integrated – heat shield included.

The nose of ship 21 is almost complete, but the nose of ship 22 (lower left) is not far behind. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

In the very near future, the Starship S21 tank section will be rolled out from the middle bay to the upper bay for nose installation and the Starship S22 tank section will be completed with its engine section and leg skirt. Perhaps as early as January, the two ships could be fully stacked and more or less line up for qualifying tests before Starship’s first attempts at orbital launch. Meanwhile, SpaceX is simultaneously preparing sections of Starship S23 and Super Heavy B6 and B7 boosters for possible assembly later this year or early next year.

SpaceX stacking two ships at once for the first time in ten months

About Marco C. Nichols

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