Space Launch Report:  Super Heavy/Starship Data Sheet
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BFR-2017 SpaceXSpaceX Super Heavy/Starship
Updated September 6, 2020

Vehicle Configurations

Vehicle Components

Super Heavy/Starship Flight Log

Super Heavy/Starship Stage Serial Number Log

2017 Version of Big Falcon Rocket

Super Heavy/Starship (BFR)

Super Heavy/Starship is Elon Musk's planned future standard SpaceX launch vehicle, meant to replace Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. It is meant to be a fully-recoverable two-stage liquid-fueled vehicle powered by new generation staged combustion SpaceX Raptor engines burning liquid methane and liquid oxygen (CH4/LOX). The first stage would perform vertical launch and landing profiles similar to Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy first stages. The second stage would use a side-ways aerodynamic reentry method followed by a vertical landing.

From the earliest days of SpaceX, Elon Musk talked about a giant "BFR" (Big "Falcon" Rocket) that could lift 100 tonnes or more to low Earth orbit. Such a rocket would be needed to support his Mars colonization dreams. During 2005, before SpaceX even attempted its first Falcon 1 launch, Mr. Musk described plans for such a rocket, powered by a cluster of "Merlin 2" engines. Merlin 2 would have been gas generator LOX/kerosene producing up to 770 tonnes of liftoff thrust.

 During this period SpaceX proposed a "Falcon XX" concept that would have used six such engines making 4,630 tonnes of liftoff thrust to power a 10 meter diameter, 104 meter tall two stage rocket capable of lifting 140 tonnes to LEO. The second stage would likely have been powered by 68 tonne thrust LOX/LH2 staged combustion Raptor engines then under study by the company. A modified version of this concept, using a LOX/LH2 J-2X powered second stage, was included in NASA's 2009-2010 “Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle Study” (HLLV).


Falcon XX/BFR HistoryBFR Versions

During 2012, SpaceX took a new direction, announcing plans to switch Raptor to full flow staged combustion LOX/Methane. Plans called for the engine to produce 360 tonnes of sea level thrust. By 2014, concepts called for a Falcon XX size rocket to be powered by nine such Raptors at liftoff, with one or two vacuum optimized Raptors powering the second stage, to lift 100 tonnes or more to LEO.

As Falcon 9 began to attempt first stage recoveries during 2015, the "BFR" concepts began to shift toward reuse, not only of the first stage but of both stages. As a result, the rocket grew much larger.

On September 27, 2016, at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk presented a design for a truly enormous 12 meter diameter, 122 meter tall, 10,478 tonne two-stage rocket named "Interplanetary Transport System" (ITS). Its first stage would have used 42 Raptor engines producing 13,154 tonnes of liftoff thrust. Nine Raptors would have powered its second "spaceship" stage. ITS would have lifted 300 tonnes to LEO. With multiple launches to refuel the second stage it would have been possible to boost nearly 500 tonnes toward Mars. Development costs for ITS were optimistically projected to be $10 billion.

One year later, at the same meeting, Musk presented a scaled down design named "BFR", capable of lifting 100 tonnes to LEO with full reuse. It would be 9 meters diameter and 118 meters tall, weigh 4,400 tonnes at liftoff, and would use carbon composite propellant tanks and structures. The 3,065 tonne first stage would use 31 Raptors making 6,305 tonnes of thrust while the 1,335 tonne second stage would have 9 Raptors, three in "vacuum" configuration, producing 1,406 tonnes of thrust. The concept retained multiple-launch orbital refueling plans designed to send 220 tonnes toward Mars.

This 2017 BFR almost seemed average-size compared to the 2016 plans, but it still would have outweighed Saturn 5, the heaviest rocket ever launched, by nearly 1,400 tonnes. It would also have produced 1.8 times more thrust than Saturn 5, a rocket that created its own 4.6 Richter scale earthquakes when launched.

During March, 2018, SpaceX announced plans to build a BFR factory at the Port of Los Angeles. Clearing of an 18 acre site began, while giant tooling for BFR composite tank fabrication was being set up in a temporary structure nearby.

By September 2018, plans called for seven identical sea-level Raptor engines on the BFR second stage. SpaceX announced at the same time plans for a privately funded 2023 lunar circumnavigation mission using BFR.

Starship Hopper (Initial Mockup Build, early 2019)Starship Hopper Mockup Phase Assembly, January 2019

Then, on October 10, 2018, the U.S. Air Force rejected SpaceX's proposal to fund some BFR development as part of a precursor National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Launch Services Agreement bid. Whether the loss contributed to a 10% SpaceX employment cutback at the end of 2018 and to cancellation of plans to build a factory at the Port of Los Angeles is unknown. Also unknown is whether the NSSL LSA bid was related to significant BFR design changes revealed in December, 2018. By then, plans for composite tanks and structures had been replaced by plans to use stainless steel.

During November, 2018, Elon Musk announced that the BFR launch vehicle first stage would be named "Super Heavy" while the second stage would be "Starship". Musk hinted that more design changes were planned, including a reduction in the number of Raptor engines.

During the final weeks of December, 2018, SpaceX began building a stainless steel "Starship Hopper" test article at Boca Chica, Texas. This was initally a cosmetic build, performed outdoors, shorter than the planned Starship, with no internal tank bulkheads and with three dummy Raptor engines, that was set up for a "photo op". After the flimsier "top hat" portion of the Hopper was destroyed during a late January 2019 windstorm, crews completed the installation of bulkheads and other hardware on the undamaged lower portion of the Hopper. This section, standing on three heavy landing legs, was built out of thicker steel plates, sheethed in a stainless steel layer, in the classic "battleship" style long-used for early propulsion tests of in-development rocket stages.

Raptor First Firing (SpaceX)First Raptor Test Firing, February 3, 2019

On February 3, 2019, SpaceX briefly test fired its first full-scale Starship Raptor flight engine in a McGregor, Texas test stand. The engine reached 172 tonnes of thrust during a subsequent firing, before it was damaged in an even higher-thrust run a few days later. Elon Musk reiterated that 200 tonnes thrust was the ultimate goal for initial Starship use, a number achievable using colder propellant temperatures then those used during the initial McGregor test firings.

The second Raptor (SN2) was then installed on Starship Hopper at Boca Chica, which had by this time been moved to a new testing pad being built near the beach. On April 3rd, 2019 the engine was test fired briefly during a "tethered hop". On April 5, during the evening local time, the engine fired again to lift the Hopper to its full tether limit. The engine was then removed as SpaceX began to prepare for another round of testing.

On April 27, 2019, Raptor SN3 was test fired for 40 seconds at McGregor, the longest duration to date. By mid-May, Raptor SN4 had been delivered while SN5 was being assembled at Hawthorne, California. During the first week of June, SN4 was installed on the Hopper for fit checks, but plans called for SN5 to be used for the first untether hop tests.

Starhopper Final Flight (SpaceX)Starhopper Final Flight

Meanwhile, SpaceX began to build new, all-stainless tank structures at both Boca Chica and near Cocoa, Floria. These "Mk1 and Mk 2" ships would be used for longer-range suborbital test flights using at least 3, and maybe up to 6, Raptor engines.  During this period - the Spring of 2019 - Elon Musk said that construction of the first Super Heavy prototype might begin during the summer of 2019.

Starhopper ended up fitted with Raptor S/N 6 for its untethered hops at Boca Chica.  A five second static test on July 16, 2019 preceeded an 18 meter altitude  untethered hop on July 25, which lasted 22 seconds.  A final, 150 meter altitude flight took place on August 17, 2019.  During the 57 second long flight, Starhopper rose, translated sideways, and landed on a separate landing pad.  The stumpy test vehicle was then retired from flight service, though plans called for it to serve as an engine test stand in the future.

Starship Mk 1 Test Assembly (SpaceX)September 2019 Starship Update

On September 27, 2019, SpaceX crews completed basic structural assembly of the Starship Mk 1 test article in Boca Chica. One day later, Elon Musk arrived to provide a program update while standing in front of the 50 meter tall, 200 metric tonne vehicle.  Three non-flight Raptor engines had been fit-tested to the prototype by that time, testing the propulsion set up planned for Mk 1 suborbital test flights.  Elon announced that Mk 1 would fly to 20 km within two months to test reentry and landing flight control and propulsion.  Starship Mk 2 would perform similar tests from LC 39A in Florida.  Suborbital testing would culminate in flights up to 100 km altitude.

Musk provided new details about the Starships. Mk 1 sported a pair of movable aft delta-fins and a pair of movable forward canards. These were designed to control the vehicle during reentry, when the vehicle would maintain a 60 degree angle from horizontal. After scrubbing velocity, the vehicle would flip to a nose-up attitude and start its engines for landing. While Mk 1 used 3/16 inch thick stainless steel, later vehicles would use steel as thin as 1/16 inch, attempting to reduce dry mass to 120 tonnes or less. Orbital Starships would carry hexagonal ceramic heat shield tiles on their leeward side. Musk said that Mk 3 and 4 Starships would also be built, at Boca and Cocoa, respectively. These would use six Raptor engines and hot gas thruster systems. Ultimately, Starship would have three central, movable "sea level" Raptors surrounded by three fixed "vacuum" Raptors.

Non-Flight Raptors on Starship Mk 1 (SpaceX)Non-Flight Raptors on Starship Mk1, September, 2019

After completing four prototype Starships, SpaceX would begin work on its first "Super Heavy" booster at Boca - clearly many months after Musk's earlier "summer 2019" statements.  The booster would carry 24 to 31 Raptor engines, with a variable number possible.  New launch mounts would be built at both Boca Chica and LC 39A to handle the massive rocket.  The stage would fly much like current Falcon 9 stages, using grid fins for reentry flight control and engine restarts for vertical landings. Super Heavy now would stand about 68 meters tall. The 118 meter tall two-stage vehicle could ultimately weigh about 5,000 tonnes at liftoff and rise on about 7,500 tonnes of thrust, growing heavier from 2017 plans.  It would be able to boost 100 tonnes to LEO initially, with 150 tonnes as a future goal.

After the September 28 presentation, Starship Mk1 was disassembled, its non-flight engines and nose section disconnected and removed. The disassembly was done to allow further detailed manufacturing to continue.

Starship Mk1 Failure  Padre Island WebcamMultiple Starships Destroyed
The Mark 1 prototype SpaceX Starship was destroyed during a cryogenic loading test at Boca Chica on November 20, 2019, dealing a setback to the SpaceX Super Heavy/Starship development effort. The top bulkhead of the propellant section was blown off after an apparent weld failure near or at the bulkhead/tank interface. The bulkhead flew hundreds of feet into the air and laterally, landing in a field. The tank section was visibly damaged. Cryogenic vapors were seen leaking both from the top tank and from the bottom, propulsion section area indicating that substantial internal damage was also likely. The top, nose section of Starship was not attached during the loading test, and Raptor engines were not believed to have been installed.

After the failure, SpaceX announced that neither the Mark 1 or Mark 2 prototypes would fly. The Mark 3 vehicle would now be the first to be flight-capable. Production near Cocoa, Florida of Mark 2 and Mark 4 was to be halted, with resources to be consolidated at Boca Chica. Thus ended the first year of work on the stainless steel Starship, which produced the successful Starhopper flights and substantial Raptor development results, but ended with a full-scale Starship setback and with no visible work on the even bigger Super Heavy stage.

After moving production to Boca Chica, SpaceX built a new series of Starships, identifying them starting with Serial Number 1 (SN1). These were sequentially lost in a series of increasingly violent testing failures during the first half of 2020. The first, SN1, was destroyed during a cryogenic proof test on February 28, 2020 due to a likely weld failure on a lower bulkhead of the bottom LOX tank. SN2 was then stripped and scrapped after being used for some structural tests of the problem area.

Starship SN3 was destroyed during its April 3, 2020 cryogenic proof test. Elon Musk said that this failure was caused by a ground setup problem. The vehicle's tanks had been filled with liquid nitrogen for the test. The vehicle crumpled beginning about halfway up and the top tank crumpled.

Vehicle SN4 was the first full-scale Starship prototype to pass its cryo proof test, accomplished on April 26, 2020 when pressurized to 4.9 bar. A single Raptor engine was then mounted and on May 5 SN4 completed a 3-second static fire test. The Raptor was removed after the test. On May 9, the stage was successfully pressurized to 7.5 bar under mechanical loading at the engine mount area.

A new Raptor, SN20, was installed and on May 19 another static test was performed that lasted several seconds. After cutoff, however, a fire began burning at the base of the vehicle when a ground line failed. Crews were unable to approach the still-pressurized vehicle for a day.

After repairs, SN4 performed another static test on May 28, 2020 that lasted about 6 seconds. A dummy load had been attached to the top of the vehicle for this testing, an effort leading toward a planned 150 meter "hop" test flight.

One more static test was performed on May 29. About a minute or so after Raptor SN20 shut down, a large white gaseous leak began at the base of the vehicle. This was methane, leaking in large volume and dangerously pooling in a gas cloud around the Starship at ground level. After another minute or so, a massive detonation occurred after the methane ignited at the base of the vehicle. SN4 and its Raptor were destroyed, along with the launch mount and some ground support equipment. At the time, SpaceX had been planning for hop attempts on June 1 or 2.

Four Starship prototypes lost in six months of testing raised serious questions about the safety and viability of the program, but construction of subsequent Starships continued.


SN5 080420 SpaceXProceed to Hop

SN5 Hop

The SN4 explosion appeared to have been caused by a failed propellant quick disconnect that was tested after the static fire was complete. The disconnect failed open, flooding the pad with methane.

SpaceX proceeded to build a small test tank, named SN7, to test new 304L stainless steel and welds. The tank was pressure-tested on June 14, 2020 and went through a full cryo pressure test the next day, when it sprung a leak at 7.6 bar. Elon Musk reported that the test was a success because it found an expected weak point. The tank was repaired and purposely tested to failure on June 23.

Meanwhile, the company completed the SN5 Starship prototype, which moved to the rebuilt pad on June 24, 2020. SN5 completed a full cryo proof test on the night of June 30-July 1. Raptor SN27 was mounted to the vehicle and, on July 30, was static test fired for several seconds. On August 4, after previous aborted attempts, SN5 performed the long-planned 150 meter "hop", rising from the pad, translating sideways, and landing on the nearby landing pad, basically repeating the Starship Hopper flight of one year earlier.  Raptor appeared to catch fire during the brief flight, and ground equipment beneath the launch pad suffered a small explosion after liftoff, but the test flight itself accomplished its objectives

The "hop" was only a precursor to high-altitude test flights that would use more Raptors and propellant to explore reentry profile techniques. The ultimate flight Starship would have to be coated with protective insulation tiles for reentry, another step in the long development process. Super Heavy, a much larger stage, would still have to be developed to boost Starship to orbit.

At the time of the SN5 hop, SpaceX had Starship prototypes SN6 and SN8, at least, under construction. SN8 would be the first full-scale prototype built with 304L stainless steel. SN6 was stored in the recently completed Mid-Bay building. The company was building a new High Bay structure that would be used for long-promised Super Heavy.

On September 3, 2020, prototype Starship SN6 performed a repeat 150 meter hop test flight, using single Raptor serial number 29. The stage had performed a cryo load test on August 16 and a brief static test firing on August 23.

Super Heavy/Starship Update

On September 1, 2020, Elon Musk provided an update on Super Heavy/Starship design progress. He said that Super Heavy would now have 28 Raptor engines, a reduction from the prevously-announced 31. The design now used an outer ring of 20 fixed Raptors, each producing 250 tonnes thrust. An inner set of eight lower-thrust, throttleable Raptors would be used control acceleration during ascent and to descend and land the stage at the end of its missions.

Together, the 28 Raptors would produce about 6,680 tonnes of liftoff thrust. Musk stated that plans called for the outer Raptors to see thrust increased up to 300 tonnes eventually, allowing total liftoff thrust to increase to about 7,500 tonnes for a 1.5 thrust to weight ratio. The overall picture presented by Musk was that the company intended to substantially increase the thrust of its still-in-development CH4/LOX Raptor engine as a means of reducing engine count on the giant Super Heavy booster. SpaceX had found that fixed throttle Raptors can operate at higher thrust than variable-throttle engines. This had forced it toward development of two sea-level Raptor variants.

Musk also stated that prototype Super Heavy vehicles would use fewer Raptors - only two at first - during early tests from Boca Chica. Eventually, the fully-engined Super Heavy would produce so much thrust, noise, and ground vibration that it would have to launch from, and land on, floating platforms off shore.

Finally, Musk said that prototype Starship flights would progress to use of three Raptors for higher altitude flights. These 9 x 50 meter versions would include nose cones and airfoils for the first time. Orbital versions to be launched atop Super Heavy would ultimately use six Raptors and would be equipped with a reentry heat shield. Super Heavy and Starship together would stand about 120 meters tall.

   

 

 

 
Vehicle Configurations

  LEO
Payload
(metric tons)
    Configuration Dimensions
(meters)
Liftoff
Mass
(metric tons)

Liftoff Thrust (metric tons)
BFR 2016 ~300 t t t 2 Stage Fully Recoverable 12 x 122 m 10,478 t 13,154 t
Super Heavy/Starship 2017 ~100 t t t 2 Stage Fully Recoverable 9 x 106 m 4,400 t 6,305 t
Super Heavy/Starship 2019 ~100 t t t 2 Stage Fully Recoverable 9 x 118 m ~3,900-5,000 t 4,800 t to 6,200 t


Vehicle Components


Super Heavy
Stage 1 (2017)
Starship
Stage 2
-(2017)
Super Heavy
Stage 1 (2019)
Starship
Stage 2
-(2019)
       
Diameter (m) 9 m
9 m
9 m
9 m
       
Length (m) 58 m 48 m 68 m 50 m        
Empty Mass (tonnes)
~120 t (est) 85 t ~300 t (est) 200 t
(120 t goal)
       
Propellant Mass (tonnes) ~2,525 t (est) 1,100 t ~2,525 t (est)
(~3,300 t goal)
1,200 t        
Total Mass (tonnes) 3,065 t
1,335 t 3,065-3,500 t
1,400 t        
Engine Raptor Raptor Raptor Raptor        
Engine Mfgr SpaceX
SpaceX
SpaceX
SpaceX
       
Fuel CH4
CH4 CH4
CH4        
Oxidizer LOX
LOX
LOX
LOX
       
Thrust
(SL tons)
6,305 t
1,220 t
4,800-6,200 t
1,200 t
       
Thrust
(Vac tons)
t
1,314 t
t
1,300 t
       
ISP (SL sec) 330 s
330 s
330 s
330 s
       
ISP (Vac sec) 356 s
356/375 s
356 s
356/375 s
       
Burn Time (sec) s s s s        
No. Engines 31 6 24-31 6        
Comments
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Super Heavy/Starship Flight History 


Date      Vehicle        No.   Payload               Mass  Site   Orbit (kmxkmxdeg)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NN/NN/NN  AAAAA          NNN   AAA                   NN    AA     AA         
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------------- LIST BY STAGE 1 SERIAL NUMBER X = Expended OL = Ocean Landing DRL = Down Range Platform Landing LZ1 = Landing Zone 1 Landing -X = Failed Landing -S = Successful Landing (Scrapped) -D = Successful Landing (Saved for Display) -M = Successful Landing (Mothballed) STA = Structural Test Article QTA = Qualification Test Article Stage No. Date Variant/No. Description Mass Site Stg1/Result Orbit ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- References

Draft Environmental Impact Statement, SpaceX Texas Launch Site, Vol 1&2, April 2013
SpaceX web site www.spacex.com
Elon Musk Twitter feed