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Are We About to See Two Starships on the Launchpad?

2 starships on launch pad
2 starships on launch pad

After last week’s accident involving Starship SN9 in the High Bay combined with the rapid progress of the next batch of prototypes, it’s fair to wonder what SpaceX’s plan is to wrap up 2020.

Both Pad A and Pad B are operational at the launch site. SpaceX clarified as much in a release on its website just prior to the SN8 test flight and CEO Elon Musk has also said in response to a tweet from RGV Aerial Photography that such a situation will occur “real soon.”

Also, at the time of this article, the next planned road closures for Highway 4 are Monday, Dec. 28 and Tuesday, Dec. 29.

We know SN9 has a significantly damaged canard and a slightly damaged aft flap after last week’s mishap. The large crane “Tankzilla” has already moved the prototype out of the High Bay to remove the broken test stand it was sitting on before putting it back in. As of the writing of this article, the crane was still securely holding the ship in place.

The question now becomes where and when SpaceX will make the repairs. Will it be on the launch pad itself? During assembly of Starship prototypes, canards are typically attached to the nosecone before the cone itself is even mated with the barrel section. It’s easiest and safest to attach these aerosurfaces when the cone is closest to the ground.

SN9 obviously presents a different problem as the ship is already fully stacked and the damaged canard is roughly 150 feet off the ground. Squeezing into the High Bay past Tankzilla to make such a repair/replacement would seem inefficient at best and quite dangerous at worst.

The aft flap presents less of an issue given its position on the prototype and replacing it in the High Bay would be considerably less dangerous.

On the day of SN9’s fall, we saw another flap being delivered to the production site, but there’s growing speculation that could’ve been meant for SN10 or possibly another in-progress prototype.

Currently, SN10’s tank section is fully outfitted in the Mid Bay and only lacks aerosurfaces for completion. On the evening of Dec. 15, Mary from NSF spotted a canard being installed on SN10’s nosecone. By all intents and purposes, it’s nearly ready for a rollout of its own.

Sn10 Nosecone Canard

That brings us back to the original question: is SpaceX planning to have both SN9 and SN10 on the pad at the same time? Will SN9’s pushed-back timeline and the rapid advent of SN10 make it more feasible that they share a pad? The layout of the launch pad area gives each pad considerable distance from the other in the event of a launch, so there’s minimal risk that one would be damaged by the other during a test flight.

It could still be that only SN9 makes it out to the pad first after these delays/repairs are over. Or, at this point, maybe SN10 cuts in line. One thing is for sure, it makes very little sense to have another near-fully assembled prototype loitering at the production site for another month and it should be an exciting end to an otherwise dreary year no matter what happens!

Written By

Hey there! My name is Zachary and I've been in love with the space industry since childhood. SpaceX has rekindled that excitement and I'm glad to get to share it with you!