For the First Time in 10 Months, SpaceX is Stacking Two Starships at Once

For the first time in 10 months, SpaceX began stacking two Starship prototypes simultaneously in late November.

SpaceX started stacking the latter prototype inside Starbase’s’midbay’ in mid-October, the first Starship assembly activity visible in over two and a half months.

SpaceX has been concentrating on Super Heavy manufacturing for the last six months as it tries to completely test a rocket for the first time. In the meanwhile, Starship assembly – which already has a long history of ground and flight testing – came to a standstill, but Starship components manufacturing did not.

SpaceX constructs Starships by forging steel rolls, sheets, and billets into structures and rings. Noses, domes, and header tanks are constructed using laser or waterjet-cut steel ‘gores’ (similar to pizza slices).

Unspooled rolls of sheet metal are sliced into pieces and welded into separate rings, which are then piled on top of one another and robotically welded around their circumference. These ring portions – 9m (30 ft) wide and 2-4 rings tall (3.6-7.3m or 12-24 ft) – are then stiffened and strengthened using stiffener rings and stringers.


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

Structural supports, pass-throughs and mounts are cut out or welded on after the basic structure has been completed to support avionics (battery and power cables as well as communications equipment), plumbing and mechanical systems as well as a variety of other components.

As for ships, robotic arms solder thousands of studs that will later serve as heat shield tiles’ anchors, as well. Starship and Super Heavy each had three of these partially-finished ring sections “sleeved” around their tank domes at some stage. It is only at this time that SpaceX starts to put together the real vehicle from the many parts that make up the Starship or Super Heavy.

That milestone is always preceded by weeks or even months of hard effort, but it is never a given that the initial stack will become a car, no matter how far ahead the pieces seem to be.

Around the 17th and 21st of October and the 21st of November, Starships S21 and S22 found themselves in this situation. Six weeks later, the tank sections of Ship 21 and Ship 22 are almost two-thirds of the way completed in Starbase’s midbay. The nosecone and four-ring part of Ship 22’s assembly is still in two sections, whereas the nose of Ship 21 is completely integrated, including the heat shield.

The tank part of Starship S21 will be wheeled from midbay to high bay for the installation of the nose on short notice, and the tank section of Starship S22 will be topped off with the engine section and the leg skirt on short notice, as well.

For the first few orbital launches of Starship, both ships might be completely packed and waiting in line for qualification testing by the end of January. To prepare for a potential final assembly this year or early next year, SpaceX is working on portions of Starship S23 and Super Heavy boosters B6 and B7.

About Alex Bruno

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