The First Superheavy Flight

[Late-afternoon update]

The Pentagon is getting interested in it for airspacelift.

26 thoughts on “The First Superheavy Flight”

    1. As stand-alone Starships, the answer very much looks to be yes. From here on out it’ll be full stacks flying.

      There will be some sort of Starship prototype flying on each of these tests, but these will be going to space, pushed by a Super Heavies.

      So Super Heavy will be doing a full mission profile on every subsequent test too. There will be no solo hop tests for Super Heavy. The only things Super Heavy will do solo are pressure tests and a static fire or two.

      Starship prototypes will do likewise on the sub-orbital test stands, then be moved, hoisted and mated to their Super Heavies before their orbital test flights.

      Orbital Launch Site infrastructure work has pretty obviously had top priority ever since SN15 stuck its landing. The site won’t be ready to support a first test flight op by July 1 as Elon aspirationally targeted some time ago, but I’m increasingly convinced it will happen on or before August 1. Work is now proceeding at such a pace that “Musk-time” is exhibiting a decided time-dilation effect.

  1. A truly amazing video, but I’ll admit to still not understanding the logic of hauling three sea level Raptor engines all the way to orbit and back just so they can be used in the last few seconds of the flight. I’d swear I recently saw footage of an upper stage that was equipped with a vacuum nozzle bell extension that was launched in a stacked position and only extended when the lower stage had dropped away. Wouldn’t it be possible to do the opposite here? You could have the Raptor vacuum engine either retract or jettison the largest part of its bell after the reentry burn, making it acceptable for use in a thicker atmosphere. Maybe it’s too complicated, but it sure would increase Starship’s payload capacity if it could get away with half the engines.

    1. I think they’ll initially late all 6 after separation because otherwise they’d only have a half G of acceleration, unless I’ve made a math error.

    2. Just guessing, but the first flight is going to be light because it won’t have any payload or a full propellant load. It won’t need the sea level Raptors to go into space but they are needed to test the controlled landing into the sea. Yeah, it may seem wasteful but it’ll be necessary to test through all phases of flight.

      1. We don’t really know whether or not the first orbital test mission will have a payload. At 4:04 of the above video, its makers have puckishly shown a Tesla Cybertruck as the payload. That would hardly be a test of Starship’s brute lifter capability, but it would be a thoroughly Elon-ish thing to do – whimsical but expendable. And, should the first such test actually result in an intact return of the Starship vehicle, such a payload would make a terrific exhibit for the Starbase Museum which I think will inevitably be added to the Starcase complex before long.

          1. If the test Starship breaks up on re-entry then the problems of any notional test payload would start long before contact with seawater added itself to the list.

            Salt water would only be a potential problem if water actually got inside the payload bay. If the test Starship lands essentially intact, the odds of it maintaining watertight integrity long enough to be towed to shore seem very good.

            In any case, the Cybertruck, like the Starship, is mostly made of stainless steel. So if Elon decides to actualize that fan-artist Easter egg, the test payload would likely survive even a slow leak of the Starship payload bay.

          2. My first though when watching the video’s depiction of soft landing in the sea was of watching the early landing attempts explode on contact with the water. Then I remembered the time when a Falcon attempting a RTLS came down in the water with no explosion. I think the odds of hard landings for both stages are pretty high on the first attempt and sincerely hope I’m wrong.

          3. Hmm, stainless steel. Has anyone done a trade study on launch from floating platforms rather than immersed? Star Dragon, if you will, might have military uses.

            Or give each Carrier Battle Group and Amphibious Task Group a fleet tug and a drone ship. Replenishment of propellants at sea would be a challenge though. Might be better to convert a LNG carrier for command and propellants and a project cargo ship ( for flight operations.

            Or Starships could fly between big bases and airdrop capsules which land via parafoil or rocket* on flight decks. “The CMV-22B will be capable of transporting up to 6,000 pounds of cargo/personnel to a 1,150 NM range” Ah, quaint 1980s technology.

            *NTO/MMH would be a literal no-go in operational conditions though. Methalox maybe?

            And with that I’m going to the fridge for a water-ethanol solution.

    3. The three sea level engines (out of six) have several functions. Initially, they represent the ascent abort system for Starship, including 0/0 abort. If you light the booster and one of the 29/32 engines ruds, and you start to fall back on the pad, the six engines ignite full power and haul Starship away. This will destroy the 3 vac engines, but not before getting far enough away and burning enough methalox that the 3 SL engines can keep going to theoretical safety. It’s also true that the vac engines can neither gimbal nor throttle (they are fixed to the skirt). Musk has noted that although most of the impulse is going through the vac engines, the SL engines are needed for steering and fine-tuning thrust. Then, of course, the SL engines do the flip and landing. (And, ultimately, having a retractable vac bell would add more weight and complexity than just using the SL engines does.)

      It’s why Musk is Musk and we’re the Peanut Gallery. (Who here is old enough to remember Howdy Doody besides me?)

        1. A success by the first 32-engine Super Heavy would just constitute an additional thumb in the eye to the Russians who failed to get their 30-engine N-1 1st stage to work on any of its four test launches.

        2. The Russians building the N-1 didn’t have modern microcontrollers to keep the engines coordinated.

    4. That would be the nozzle on the M-X missile. Really cool trick, but not very applicable here.

      What’s the problem with hauling 6 engines around instead of 3? When you have a 100-ton cargo margin, you can afford to do things like that, and two sets of engines makes particular sense when your Earth rocket is also your Mars rocket.

  2. Since they aren’t carrying payload and they aren’t going into orbit–they can get away with under filling the starship’s tanks and getting away with just three SL raptors. The much lighter starship should get through re-entry with ease. If it doesn’t…well, someone really miscalculated.

    1. A Starship’s engines don’t really constitute a very large part of even its dry mass, never mind its total mass, at launch. Starships doing orbital tests will carry a full complement of Raptors.

  3. And that’s why I come here. There’s always a good answer or three to space-related questions.
    I don’t go back as far as Howdy Doody, but I do remember Miss Jeanie on Romper Room. My, how the years go by!

    1. For my little sisters (now passing 60) it was Miss Connie on Romper Room, whom my mother referred to as Miss Floppy, for her inadequate upper foundation garment. I’m just barely old enough to recall Bob Keeshan as Flub-a-Dub, before he became Captain Kangaroo.

  4. What an amazing video. I particularly like the water landing of the Starship.

    Back in the day, my wife and I separately worked on about six NASA studies for flyback boosters. Nothing ever came of any of them, because NASA would never take the risk of flying one to find out what could go wrong. Elon has done just that, and at far lower cost than having an army of engineers and managers wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over a possible failure.

    There is an impediment on the horizon to Elon and SpaceX. I’ll have more to say about it after June 14th.

    1. I’ll have more to say about it after June 14th.
      Red Flag Day?

      Sorry only go back as far as The Captain. At the time we only got three channels and two networks. The third channel was from the local University for teaching TV techs and farmers before the Corporation for Public Broadcasting existed. Their radio station was the only one that broadcast classical music that had good reception. They guy who ran the grain elevator in town listened to it constantly.

      1. I was in similar circumstances. Two of the three channels we could reliably get initially were CBS affiliates and the third was ABC. So my parents were “Cronkite people” rather than “Huntley-Brinkley people” by default and, perforce, so was I as the NASA space program was starting.

        There was an NBC station with hit-or-miss reception quality that we would look at occasionally early-on. But we never got attached to any of the NBC shows until the arrival of Community Antenna Television (CATV), as it was known at the time, finally provided reliable reception to stations that were marginal when we had to rely on our own antenna. I think that was sometime in 1961. That was also the first time we got access to any college-affiliated channel.

        I also remember Bob Keeshan only as Capt Kangaroo. But then my family got its first TV fairly late in the game in the Fall of 1959. Anything earlier than that I didn’t see.

  5. If Elon wants to make a point about mass I know where he could fine a pair of old M60 tanks. At 50 tons each they would demonstrate well how much Starship is able to put in space, or on the Moon.

  6. The Pentagon is getting interested in it for spacelift.

    They see a private company that has a bigger and more accurate missile.

  7. Elon already has launched, and recovered repeatedly the FH which has 27 engines. So shouldn’t be any problem doing 29 engines. As for payload, if he stays true to form it will be a big wheel of cheese for the party afterwards.

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