Just days after SpaceX’s SN8 (Starship Number 8) put on a thrilling display in the skies over Boca Chica, the company has run into a small situation with its next fully built-out prototype, SN9.
The fully-assembled prototype had been resting in the High Bay (the tallest of three massive storage/assembly buildings) at the production facility when cameras from YouTuber and local resident LabPadre caught the 160+ foot tall craft falling forward and colliding with the building’s walls.
— LabPadre (@LabPadre) December 11, 2020
Per photos from the NASASpaceFlight forum, SN9 has since been righted by the massive crane nicknamed “Tankzilla” by the SpaceX fan community and the damaged stand which had apparently buckled under its weight removed. It’s worth noting that this is the first time SpaceX has fully stacked a Starship prototype at the production site on a normal stand and not at the launch pad.
One of the canards already in place on SN9’s nosecone suffered significant damage and will likely need to be replaced, and one of the aft flaps showed slight disfiguration as well. The nosecone itself had a noticeable dent from the impact but, by and large, the rest of the ship’s hull seemed to have escaped no worse for wear.
After the stand was removed, SN9 was placed back inside the High Bay.
— Mary (@BocaChicaGal) December 14, 2020
The outside of the High Bay shows no indentation where the ship hit, so the building’s stability seems to be intact. Scaffolding that lines the interior of the High Bay may not have been so lucky as SN9 apparently fell directly into it.
The incident comes just days after Cameron County authorities published a planned road closure for 12-9 p.m. CDT on Monday, Dec. 14 for the stated purpose of rolling SN9 to the launch pad, an astonishingly fast turnaround given SN8 flew its test flight just days earlier, and its wreckage is still being cleared from the landing pad. That closure was cancelled Monday morning and a new one has not been scheduled to replace at the time of publishing of this piece.
On the day of the incident, “Everyday Astronaut” YouTuber Tim Dodd reported on Twitter that the crews on the ground were “calm and collected” immediately after the incident.
It appears to be in good shape. The site down here is calm and collected. They’re already getting the lift mount ready to pick it up. Way too soon to know if it’s ok, even if not SN10 is literally on the way. Two more pics – pic.twitter.com/rU2iVVfGRM
— Everyday Astronaut (@Erdayastronaut) December 11, 2020
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has not commented on the issue via Twitter, and left Brownsville after the accident to return to Hawthorne, CA via the Twitter account @ElonJet.
Took off from Brownsville, Texas, US. pic.twitter.com/9UiUtA9486
— Elon Musk & SpaceX’s Jet (@ElonJet) December 11, 2020
While the SN9 situation is addressed, prototypes SN10 and 11 are still positioned in the Mid Bay, and booms/cranes have been seen working on them continuously. SN10 lacks only aft flaps and a nosecone to be fully assembled, and SN11 is also nearly complete with only stacking and aero surfaces needed.
Twitter user @brendan2908 has an updated docket of the progress of each Starship prototype in production whose components have been spotted and the latest update shows rapid progress.
Today, SN8 successfully lifted off, ascended to 12.5km, bellyfloped and performed its landing flip maneuver with precise flap control to reach its landing point. It doesn’t matter that it exploded. Making it as far as it did definitely exceeded my expectaions. SN9 you’re up next! pic.twitter.com/nxebV8MWJm
— Brendan (@brendan2908) December 10, 2020