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On this page: News Update! | Integrated Flight Test-3 | Integrated Flight Test-2 | Integrated Flight Test-1 | SN25 | SN28 | SN29 + |Hot Staging | Orbital Flight Plan | SN24 | SN20 | Upper Stage Tests | Early Starship Prototypes | Starhopper

SpaceX is developing Starship at its Boca Chica facility in Texas. Starship is a stainless steel behemoth spacecraft designed to launch up to 100 people on the trip of a lifetime - - to the surface of Mars. The Starship launch system is a 2-stage vehicle. The first stage is the Falcon Super Heavy booster that is powered by multiple Raptor engines - - 33 in the final version. The second stage is the Starship spacecraft that has three Raptor engines for operating in Earth's atmosphere and three optimized for the vacuum of space. Both stages are made of stainless steel. If the Starship is returning to Earth, the upper stage must be protected from atmospheric entry and so it has a thermal protection system on its "belly". It is comprised of small (30cm) black hexagonal pieces that give a honeycomb-like effect. Special pieces must be used on various specialized areas (such as the nose cone.)

Starship was rolled out by Elon Musk at the International Astronautical Congress in 2016. Unnamed at the time, Elon presented it as the "BFR" or "Big Falcon Rocket", though some say the acronym stood for something else. SpaceX began testing for the rocket that would eventually become Starship in a series of prototype tests.

Starship fully stacked image looking down the side
This stunning view of Starship was taken the first time the launch system was fully stacked on August 6, 2021.
Credit: SpaceX

Starship has caused a lot of excitement as the development of the project is in clear view at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, TX. Enthusiasts have been able to watch as the Starship project meets its developmental milestones. Engine tests are often viewed by thousands and many YouTube channels and websites have sprung up to watch the development of the vessel that is expected to take humans to Mars. Before launching to Mars, however Starship will take humans to the surface of the Moon under NASA's Artemis Project.

On June 14, 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a final environmental assessment of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica, TX. Although SpaceX is required to meet 75 conditions, this means that SpaceX will be able to conduct orbital launches at the Boca Chica Starbase facility.

Starships that return to Earth are expected to be caught by two massive arms that are affectionately called, "chopsticks". These arms hold the Starship and its Falcon Super Heavy booster on the orbital launch mount. This system will be tested when SpaceX is able to launch and retrieve a Starship on return to the launchpad.

For more details on Starship, download the Starship User's guide at

Check out SpaceX's Starship web page!

Starship Prototype Testing

Keep watching here for updates on SpaceX's Starship testing. Check the date to see when this page was updated. We hope to keep up with the progress of Starship building and testing. Check the onsite SpaceX Info Links page for some of the sources used to keep up with the amazing pace! You can find various livestreams that are continuously operating on YouTube or link to them from this page on the What About It? website on available livestreams.

#AstrasStargate #ImaRocketFan

News Update

Update as of March 28, 2024

Starship SN29 and Booster #11 are being prepared for the next flight test. Repairs to the orbital launch pad and other systems in the launch area are underway.

Groundwork for a second launch site and tower has begun and the suborbital launch pad will be removed. The huge Starfactory is still being built and construction of an office building are underway. Updates continue at Massey's test site. SpaceX has requested approval from the FAA for a total of 9 flights this year!

Starship SN28 and SuperHeavy Booster #10 launched on March 14, 2024, at 14:25 UTC or 8:25 am CDT for the third integrated flight test (IFT-3). However, neither the SuperHeavy nor the Starship were able to soft land in the ocean. A mishap investigation is underway. Watch IFT-3 on SpaceX's launches page.

+ + Read Astra's account of "IFT-3" on this page.

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In the Rocket Garden

Booster #4 has been dismantled. Starship SN26 is in the garden with Starship 30 and Starship 32 are in the garden. Starship 31 is in the highbay. These are the last of the V.1 Starships.

+ Read about the second integrated launch of Starship SN25 and SuperHeavy Booster #9 on November 18, 2023

Boosters in the Bay

Elon Musk posted this image of starship boosters 10, 11, and 12 as they are being worked on in the high bay at Boca Chica, Texas. The boosters are seen between two section of Booster 13 that were stacked shortly after this image was taken.

SpaceX workers with boosters in megabay
Elon Musk posted this image of SpaceX workers with the boosters in the mega bay on February 2, 2024

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SpaceX at Boca Chica

Elon Musk posted this image of Starship workers who are busily working at Boca Chica, Texas. The image was posted on X with Musk's comment: Great work by the Starship team!

SpaceX workers praised by Elon Musk at Boca Chica
Elon Musk posted this image of the Starship Crew, workers at Boca Chica in front of Starship SN25 taken on September 13, 2023.

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Starships under Development

Starship Version 1

After Starship's second integrated flight, Elon Musk shared on "X" that SpaceX is planning to start building Version 2 of Starship. In his post he showed the last of the Version 1 Starships on site at Boca Chica. These ships are "V1": Starships SN28, SN29, SN30, SN31 and SN32. The second version of Starship (upper stage) should carry more propellant, have less dry mass, and increased reliability. The new version may have nine Raptor engines instead of six. Version 2 will no doubt include improvements made by SpaceX using data collected from flights of the V1 vessels.

Starship 28

Starship SN28 is intended to be the vehicle that will fly for the Integrated Flight Test-3. It will be paired with Booster #10. After a successful wet dress rehearsal, SpaceX has set the launch date for March 14, 2024.

There have been many changes to the launch site since ITF-2 at Starbase. New fuel tanks have enabled the Starship and SuperHeavy launch system to be fueled in about 50 minutes. Improvements to the orbital launch base and the chopsticks that lift the Starship and booster have been made. These are just a few of what Elon Musk said were thousands of changes.

A new flight plan for ITF-3 has been posted by SpaceX. This time, Starship has three activities to perform after engine cutoff including opening the payload door at about 11:56 after the launch. Next, SpaceX will attempt to relight a Raptor engine in space. What we at Astra's are most excited about is the cyrogenic fuel transfer between the main tank and the header tank. After the transfer, the ship is now scheduled to land in the Indian Ocean and not the Pacific. Starship should belly flop into the ocean far from any major population center.

Starship SN28 timeline

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Starship SN28 Integrated Flight Test – 3 (IFT-3)

On March 14, 2024, SpaceX successfully launched the third integrated flight test of Starship SN28 and SuperHeavy Booster #10 at 8:25 CST from Boca Chica, Texas. All 33 engines lit and burned flawlessly while SuperHeavy pushed the upperstage Starship for about 2 minutes and 42 seconds when they reached 67 km in altitude. At that point, all but three of the booster's Raptor engines shut down to begin the hot-stage process. At 72 km, the Starship upper stage ignited all of its Raptor engines and successfully continued upward.

SpaceX launches Starship 28 integrated flight test
Elon Musk posted this image on X of Starship SN28 and SuperHeavy Booster,
at the launch of the third integrated flight test on March 13, 2024.

SuperHeavy Booster

The central engines of SuperHeavy were re-ignited, moving it out of the way of the upperstage. At 2:54 into the flight the second ring of boosters was reignited, gimbaling SuperHeavy into position for its long fall back to Earth. This "boost-back burn" lasted about a minute. All engines on SuperHeavy fell silent by 3:48, when it was 101 km in altitude. Soon, the SuperHeavy was falling back to Earth, gaining speed under the influence of gravity. The grid-fins on the booster started moving in order to control the drop, but when the engines restarted close to the ground, they did not start together but staggered. About 7 minutes into flight, when the SuperHeavy Booster should have softly landed in the ocean, it was still traveling over 1000 km per hour. Yep, RUD on the sea. (SpaceX reported that Booster #10 blew up at 462 meters in altitude.) Overall, SuperHeavy seemed to work very well up to the point it should have been burning its Raptor engines that would slow it down to make the soft landing. The grid-fins did not seem to work properly near the end of the flight.

The Starship Upperstage

After the successful hot-staging maneuver, Starship was powered by its engines, three sea-level Raptor engines and three vacuum Raptors. At this time, SN28 was about 70 km in altitude and leaving SuperHeavy far behind. At 3:39 minutes into the flight, Starship crossed the Kármán line, 100 km above the surface of the Earth. By the time the SuperHeavy booster met its final RUD, Starship was traveling at 17,000 km per hour and at 144 km in altitude. The Ship continued its flight, reaching engine cutoff. The three vacuum engines cut out at 8:21 and the sea-level engines quit firing at 8:35, finally leaving the Ship to coast on its own, 150 km above the Earth's surface. At 14:31 after the launch, SpaceX shared the view of the payload door where there was a bit of atmosphere still left inside the compartment. At 16:15, the compartment was shown again and the door was commanded to open. The remaining atmosphere swirled out of the compartment and flew off into space. Sunshine poked into the open doorway.

While Starship was coasting, it successfully completed the transfer of thousands of pounds of cryogenic propellant from the header tank to the main liquid oxygen tank. We only learned this through NASA and SpaceX news reports. Links for those reports are posted below. Evidently NASA and SpaceX are reviewing the flight data to find out how successful it was. The third test, the relighting of the engines, was not attempted because SN28 was rolling and the reaction control or roll thrusters were unable to correct the problem. This rolling would mean that the propellant was also rolling in the tank. Restarting would be bad for the Raptor engines.

Unfortunately, the views we were given of the Starship dashboard were indicating a change of attitude, and the vehicle was actually rolling. In other words, it was not holding the correct attitude needed for the entry into Earth's atmosphere. At 44 minutes into the flight, the cameras showed bits and pieces falling off the Ship. Some of those pieces looked like tiles - - those same heat tiles that were looking good after the Starship made it into orbit. Light and shadows playing on the ship attest to the fact that it was not maintaining the attitude for the belly flop. Wisps of white gasses may have indicated some attempt to control the attitude with thrusters but due to the obvious motion, the vehicle was unable to rectify that. Unfortunately the heat shield did not face the atmosphere as it was intended, so there was no test of the thermal protection system. Starship SN28 was traveling at 27,430 km per hour when it encountered Earth's atmosphere. About 46 minutes after takeoff, we began to see the tile-covered fin begin to glow. As spectacular as it was to watch as the horror of atmospheric entry unfolded, it was necessary to face the facts that the landing would not happen. Starship 28 blew up in the atmosphere, most likely because the engines were exposed to hot gasses.

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Wow! The third test flight was amazing. The cameras that SpaceX flew on IFT-3 worked very well, giving some awesome views. The signal from the Starship was picked up by Starlink satellites, NASA's TDRS system, and other ground stations. Four Starlink antennas were added to the Starship. Starlink satellites proved their worth just for these views.!

The water deluge system began spraying water to set off the launch sequence. The system must have worked well because the road to the launch site was opened shortly after the flight. All 33 of SuperHeavy's Raptor Engines started up and worked flawlessly through launch and hot staging. Now during IFT-2, many people claimed the hot staging worked, but I couldn't call that because the booster did not successfully turn and start heading toward land. This time the booster was able to complete the hot-staging maneuver. The upperstage Starship SN28 successfully headed off on its own. Starship is considered to have reached orbit. The speed and height it reached was intentionally limited by its mission objectives. Apogee for SN28 was 234 km, with a perigee that would not take it around the Earth, but to Earth's surface. Successful mission objectives included the payload door opening and the fuel transfer working.

The FAA has already called for a mishap investigation. This is always necessary when the actual flight does not match the flight plan. Although this may seem like bureaucratic red tape, it is not just a formality, but calls for a thorough review of the flight. As SpaceX is building this new launch system, systematic review of each detail can only help to perfect the design. Once the system is able to carry out a safe flight and is approved for operation, these reviews will not be necessary unless there is a mishap.

So the most obvious problem during IFT-3 was that the giant Starship spacecraft could not hold a stable orbit. It was rolling, pitching, and most likely yawing as well at various times during its solo flight. This is most distressing and I wonder what improvements will be made to the design by SpaceX. Because of those unwanted motions, there was no attempt to re-activate the Raptors, so this test will have to be repeated until that is corrected. The problem lies with the thrusters on the upperstage Starship - - that must be solved.

Both stages of the Starship system had a problem landing. Starship achieved orbit, but not re-entry. SuperHeavy seemed, oh, so close, to making a soft landing. The engines did not relight properly. I believe they restarted too late, when the booster wass a mere kilometer or so above the ground, rather than 5 km above the surface. Far be it for me to tell a company that has successfully landed so many Falcon 9s how to soft land. Landing failed because the engines did not relight properly.

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Integrated Flight Test - 3 was a success, despite the fact that the vehicles were not able to land. Reusability will come. Starship is moving toward perfection at a nice pace. I believe the lunar Starship can be ready in time for the test flight of Artemis. The success of the fuel transfer demonstration is very encouraging, but there is a lot of ground to cover before that becomes a reality.

#ImaRocketFan - Astra

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We used some resources to help produce this walk through of the partially successful Starship SN28 mission.

Starship's Third Flight Test - from SpaceX's website

Full broadcast of Integrated Flight Test – 3 - on SpaceX's X account (Twitter)

NASA Artemis Mission Progresses with SpaceX Starship Test Flight - NASA press release

Although these are not given by name, these YouTube channels listed here are pointed at the videos that were reviewed before writing this article on IFT-3:

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Starship SN29 and More

SN29 finished cryo testing in September and October of 2023, and was rolled back to the rocket garden. On leap day, Starship 29 was rolled over to the orbital launch site and lifted to Pad B on March 2. On March 11, a successful spin test was performed.

Starship SN29 timeline

Starship SN30

SN30 Is under construction.

Starship SN31

SN31 Is under construction.

Starship SN32

SN32 Is under construction.

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Starship SN27 was cut in half without any testing on July 20, 2023.

Starship SN26 was rolled out in December of 2022 and has had a long history of testing, beginning in February of 2023 at suborbital launch pad A. It is still active, theoretically, but it now in the rocket garden. It may be a lunar lander test article for the Artemis program.

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Starship SN25

Starship SN25 starship prototype was rolled out to the orbital launch site at Boca Chica on October 19, 2022. Although SN25 had a full heat shield, it had no engines when it was moved to the launch area. On October 20, 2022, SN24 was lifted up onto Booster #7 with the special arms intended to raise and eventually catch returning starships. Both SN24 and SN25 were being lifted at the same time. SN25 was returned to the build area where it should be fitted with Raptor engines. Although SN25 was deployed with a specialized cargo bay intended to launch SpaceX's Starlink satellites, its payload bay was sealed permanently shut.

R.I.P Starship SN25 and Booster #9!

Starship SN25 timeline

On September 14, 2023 SN25 was de-stacked from Booster 9

Starship SN25 was stacked on top of SuperHeavy Booster #9 on September 5, 2023

On June 26, 2023 Starship SN25 performed a successful static fire test, igniting 6 engines and firing for 5 seconds.

January 2023 lifted onto the suborbital pad for testing.

November 2022 - cryogenic testing

June 21, 2023 - spin prime test

June 26, 2023 - static fire

November 15, 2023 - FAA granted the flight license needed for launch

November 18, 2023 - 2nd integrated flight test launch

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Hot Staging to Orbit

Starship is an awesome rocket that is being developed with the usual SpaceX innovation philosophy. New engines, SuperHeavy first-stage booster, and the second-stage marvel, Starship, are all being built with reusability in mind. After the partial success of the first integrated flight test, Elon Musk announced that Starship's next clever trick was to be "hot staging"!

Hot staging has been used in the past, notably the United States' Titan II rocket that actually started life as a missile, not a lift vehicle. The Soviets, of course, developed rockets that practiced hot staging, including the Soyuz-2 that routinely takes astronauts to the International Space Station. The Soyuz-2 rocket has a lattice structure between the second and third stage. The structure allows the engine of the upper stage to fire just before the separation from the core stage that is still firing below it. A cone-shaped deflector helps to direct the flow of hot exhaust gas from the third-stage engine when it fires up. Of course, the Russian core stage is expendable while Starship will be reusable.

On June 24, Elon Musk shared this image on "X" (formerly known as "Twitter"), showing the vented interstage and heat shield installed on Booster 9. We've indicated a couple of features on the image with white arrows, notably, three locking structures spaced evenly on the top that will hold the upper-stage Starship firmly to the core-stage SuperHeavy booster. Besides the obvious vents, we've indicated the reinforcing "x-shaped" structure between the serrated vents. Like the Soyuz, the heat shield is conical, with a flat top.

Three sea-level Raptor engines, mounted to the upper stage, will occupy the flat area. These engines gimbal, but the vacuum Raptors do not. It seems inevitable that the vacuum Raptors mounted on the outside will fire off alone, although no one seems quite sure how the hot staging will actually work in practice. That's the innovative part. The exhaust from the engines will travel out the vent while the SuperHeavy booster below must be protected from the energetic exhaust.

Superheavy Booster with interstage attached
SuperHeavy Booster with interstage attached

The purpose of hot-staging is to save fuel. No momentum is lost and there is no need to worry about gases intermixing with the rocket fuel. To prevent this, many rockets use ullage motors. SpaceX tries to lighten the load by simplifying and omitting unnecessary parts. There's been a lot of speculation about how this hot-staging system will actually work. The core stage will return to Earth just like the Falcon 9 rockets. At Astra's Stargate, we believe that SpaceX will make it work.

I'm thinking the interstage ring is disposable, until it's not! - - Astra

#AstrasStargate #ImaRocketFan

There is a very good discussion on the Ellie in Space YouTube channel. Scott Walker and Ozan Bellik join Ellie in a discussion about Starship hot staging:

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Starship SN25 Integrated Flight Test – 2 (IFT-2)

November 18, 2023, was a foggy morning at Boca Chica, Texas where SpaceX crews worked to ready their equipment for the second integrated flight test of the Starship, pressing to meet the 7:00 am CST launch schedule. As the Sun rose, the fog cleared and everything appeared to be ready to go. The propellants had been loaded and the giant spacecraft and rocket were covered with frost from the chilled cryofluids inside the rocket’s tanks. At 7:03, the SuperHeavy booster’s 33 Raptor engines lit up sequentially until the behemoth rocket took to the sky. All 33 engines continued to burn while Starship soared into the sky leaving a trail of giant Mach diamonds behind (also known as shock diamonds) as it rose.

Starship SN25 was built with a "hot-staging" section that would allow the second stage engines to start up while the first stage engines continued burning. Like the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, the first stage booster is meant to be reusable, returning to Earth. To make this system work, the number of engines firing on the first stage would be reduced to three. This first step was accomplished at ~ 2:40 after launch, the booster separated from the upper stage and three engines were still running. The rocket was 90 km over the ocean surface. The giant booster was to turn and splash down, but something went amiss and at ~ 3:22 into the flight, there was a massive explosion. I thought that the vehicle’s Flight Termination System (FTS) was activated but maybe there was another cause for the explosion.

Meanwhile, the upper stage Starship was under power with its own Raptor engines, three sea-level engines and three vacuum engines that seemed to be carrying out their duties admirably. It continued to rise and at 5:05 into the flight, the Cape Canaveral station received its signal. This ascent continued until the Starship rose 148km at 8:07 into the flight. The image was not clear, but at this time there was a massive explosion. Later Elon Musk explained that this was because they vented the Oxygen header tank that would have been used if Starship was carrying a payload. After the upper stage blew up the flight ended.

Starship made it into space, considered to start around 100km above Earth’s surface, but it never made it into orbit. There were a lot of positive outcomes to this flight. The new steel plate that SpaceX installed under the launch pad to deliver water underneath the rocket performed well, preventing damage to the launch pad. This new type of water deluge system invented by SpaceX engineers has proven viable. All of the Raptor engines on the booster ignited and the hot-stage system seemed to work as well. The return of the booster to Earth for reusability was not proven, but seems it could be made to work with some tweaking. There were some repairs to the launch pad needed, but in all, the flight was a great success for SpaceX. By studying the performance of the Starship system, improvements can be made. Unfortunately, since the Starship flight did not meet its stated goals, it is considered to be a mishap by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A mishap investigation will take place and the next experimental flight will need its own license.

+ + Check out SpaceX's Starship Update of February 26, 2024, "Building on the Success of Starship’s Second Flight Test" to find out how SpaceX uses iterative design process to develop Starship.

Starship SN24

SpaceX launched the first integrated test of Starship, using SN24!

Starship SN24 Starship prototype was extensively tested by SpaceX along with Falcon Super Heavy Booster #7. They launched together on April 20, 2023 and flew for about 4 minutes. The booster and SN24 were destroyed after they did not separate at main engine cut off. The original milestones reported at Astra's Stargate are retained in this section.

Starship 24 integrated launch test April 20, 2023
Starship 24 integrated launch test April 20, 2023

SpaceX provides Starship status during the launch at the bottom of the screen. It's great information for those who are watching the launch. Unfortunately, the first look at the panel shows that three of the Raptor engines are not firing. The right side of the screen will indicate statistics for the upper stage of the Starship although it was not activated during this flight. This image was extracted from the video that SpaceX streamed.

It's important to remember that this info-graphic may not represent exactly what is occurring during the flight. There are some readings here that seemed inaccurate. It does not necessarily reflect the engineering data that SpaceX is collecting from the flight.

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Starship SN24 takes flight - UPDATED

With a resounding roar the first set of Raptor engines were ignited at T -:06 and the integrated flight of Starship SN24 began. As more Raptors were ignited, a giant cloud of brown and orange dust formed around the base of the rocket. (Final countdown begins at 44:54 seconds in the SpaceX video.) Starship did not begin to rise from the pad until all the Raptors had been ignited. It would have lifted 2 second earlier but all engines were not firing. In the dusty clouds, some chunks of debris from the launch pad were visible. In the first seconds after liftoff, Starship maneuvered sideways - - away from the launch tower - - this was not a planned maneuver. When Starship launched, three engines were not working. Debris from the launch has been noted to have risen perhaps 300 feet and some chunks traveling at least 160 mph. Airborne particles were deposited at Port Isabela, 6 miles away.

There is a visible explosion around T +29, around 45:43 in the launch video, white particles fall off near the tail end. A flaming tail comes from this area and the speculation is that this was part of the hydraulics system that moves the rotatable Raptor engines. The white tail followed the booster for a few seconds may have been ignited hydraulic fluid. At T +40 seconds an additional Raptor engine (Raptor #19) is no longer firing. Around T+100, the fifth Raptor falls silent. At T+1:04, a white chunk falls off the tail end of the ascending craft. It is not certain that these failures were due to systems being damaged by flying debris during liftoff or just engine failure.

The vehicle is said to have reached Max Q around T+ 1:22 and shortly thereafter Starship develops a second tail, greenish in color. Now some of the engines are no longer burning fuel, they are just burning. Around T+1:45 a sixth raptor has bit the dust. Around two and a half minutes in, the Starship begins to tumble until it is traveling sidewise. It was reported by Elon Musk that SpaceX lost control of the vehicle. Since the plan was to continue to gain altitude, it becomes obvious that there will be no separation and no forward progress. The view changes to an onboard camera, into the steamy engine skirt and the sight of the curvature of the Earth gives a breathtaking pause.

At main engine cutoff (MECO), around T+ 2:49, Starship spun around in the sky for a few seconds until streams of propellant appeared, one from the middle of the booster and the other on the second stage indicating that the flight had terminated. From the spinning rocket, some engines are firing at T+3:25, maybe attempting to control the booster for the programmed return maneuver, but with the upper stage still attached and no hydraulics, the vessel just looped around in the sky. Evidently the conditions that cause the programmed separation were not met or damages prevented the system from operating. The flight of Starship SN24 was terminated, but the rocket did not explode for 40 seconds. That must be improved. At T +3:59, the Starship was about 31km in altitude when it exploded. It was a spectacular launch and excitement ran high, however it was unfortunate that the flight of Starship SN24 had to be terminated over the Gulf ocean.

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There was no testing of the heat tiles nor did the booster manage to land in the ocean. From my point of view, the booster might have been launched with a dummy payload instead of wasting the effort that was made on Starship SN24. If Starship wasn't expected to make orbit, why launch a prototype covered in heat tiles? Totaling up the poor performance of the SuperHeavy booster and the mangled mess at the launch pad, this was a poor test flight. It is viewed by many as a successful flight test, since the launch site wasn't destroyed. The test has given SpaceX a lot of information to process and improve the rocket. The Starship system is grounded until the pad is rebuilt properly and the mishap totally investigated. How can Starship be launched from Florida unless there is a proven orbital launch from stage zero in Boca Chica? In addition, because the Raptors were damaged, the SuperHeavy first stage booster still needs to be proven. I wonder if Booster#7 was doomed to fail because of design defects corrected in newer Starship vehicles.

This update utilized the May 6, 2023 YouTube video produced by Marcus House, a channel that I follow.

Starship fully stacked image looking down the side
Crater carved under Starship launch pad

In the aftermath, SpaceX is repairing the launch site and no doubt the FAA and NASA are also involved. Because of that, cleaning up the site and making changes will be a major effort. I notice that people complain a lot about NASA and the FAA being involved in the Starship process. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the U.S. regulatory organization that oversees the airplanes and rockets that fly in our airspace. Without this oversight there would be utter chaos in our skies. Who do you think keeps the air traffic out of the launch area? They ground unsafe airplanes and insist on regulations being met. I am tired of hearing how terrible they are and how they hate SpaceX. This is just untrue. There was a tremendous pressure for this launch to take place. This is called, "launch fever" and it can bite quite badly as it did during the integrated flight test. Without the steel-cooled plate for the launchpad and no water deluge system, let alone a flame diverter, clearly this rocket was not ready to be launched. Mishap analysis, cleanup, and redesign is now necessary. Please be patient while "nothing is happening" at Starbase if there isn't a loud, fiery launch in two or six months.

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You may react to my comments and send me a message via the contact page given below, just remember that the statements I made about the launch are merely my opinions. I have been watching rocket launches since I was about five-years old. I am now and will continue to be a SpaceX and Starship fan. "Occupy Mars" and all of that.

#ImaRocketFan - Astra

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Starship SN24's original flight plan included launch on Super Heavy booster #7 that was to shut down and separate 170 seconds in the flight. Booster #7 was to land in the ocean about 20 miles away from the launch site. The second stage Starship SN24 was to continue, reaching space and landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Hawaiian island Kauai. No part of SN24 was to be recovered, but the landing of Starship would test the thermal protection system and Starship behavior as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.

+ + SpaceX released the Starship | First Integrated Flight Test | Recap

Ryan Hansen Space released a video on the SpaceX Starship | O.F.T (Orbital Flight Test) Animation. This animation is high quality and took nine months in the making. Ryan had help from many artists around the world. This video does not show the first orbital flight test but includes such operations as recovering the Falcon heavy booster by catching the spent rocket at the launch pad using the giant support arms, and the deployment of type 2 Starlink satellites.

You can download the Starship SN20 orbital flight plan - - First Flight FCC Exhibit.

On November 15, 2022, a Booster #7 second static fire with 14 Raptor engines were fired simultaneously. Booster 7 replaced Booster #4. Booster #8 was evidently retired and booster #7 became the first booster that flew.

Static Fire Test Success!

Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) successfully fired 31 of its 33 Raptor engines on February 9, 2023. One engine was manually disabled before the static fire by the SpaceX test team and one engine shut down automatically before ignition due to an unspecified problem. The 31 Raptor engines completed a static fire that lasted about five seconds as was expected. Elon Musk said that the 31 engines were enough for the Starship to reach orbit. The orbital launch mount (OLM) holds the Starship while the engines are working.

Testing Mishap

Starship 24 and Booster 7 have been repeatedly tested at Boca Chica, with a static fire on July 11, 2022 ending in an explosion that was damaging to the Raptor Engines as well as the launch pad. During the test all 33 Raptor engines were tested simultaneously causing methane gas to build up under the booster. The methane ignited and caused the explosion. Booster 7 was repaired and returned to the launch pad on August 26, 2022 to begin new testing, this time with 20 engines being fired.

Repairs were made to the launch site as well as the booster and testing resumed.

Starship SN20

Starship SN20 is the first version of Starship prototypes to be stacked on Falcon Super Heavy Booster #4. It was planned to be the first Starship to reach orbit but delays for the launch including FAA approval finally caught up to SN20 and it was removed from the pad on March 12, 2022. Booster 4 was removed from the launch pad on March 24, 2022. On May 12, 2022, SN20 was moved from the launch area to the production area and parked with other old prototypes in the so-called "rocket garden." at the Boca Chica build site.

SN20's flight was canceled but in February 2022, SN20 and Booster #4 were restacked for Elon Musk's regular "Starship update." the update was held on February 10, 2022. SN20 and Booster 4 were replaced by Starship 24 and Booster 7. In addition, Starship 22 was built but was later scrapped.

On August 6, 2021, Starship SN20 was placed on top of Super Heavy Booster #4, by the giant crane that has been dubbed "Frankencrane" aka "Kong" (It is a R11350-P1800 Liebherr crane) one of the largest cranes in the world.

Of course a lot of the launch and launch support systems have been built at SpaceX's Boca Chica facilities, now designated as Starbase. Work goes on day and night because the sooner Starship is launched for a suborbital flight, the more data can be acquired. Building of the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) has been ongoing, with eight tanks including four liquid oxygen tanks, two liquid nitrogen tanks, one methane tank, and one water tank. A large tower for launching the Starship has been built as well as an orbital launch pad. This tower is to be equipped with arms that will catch the returning super heavy booster.

Raptor Engines

The Falcon Super Heavy and Starship are powered by SpaceX's Raptor Engines that are still being developed. The latest Raptor 2.0 design are vastly improved over the previous versions. SpaceX plans three Raptor variants: sea level engine with gimbal, sea level engine without gimbal, and vacuum level engine without gimbal.

Read more about Raptor Engines on Astra's SpaceX page

Thermal Protection System

A very important system to be tested by SN20 is the Thermal Protection System (TPS). This system must work flawlessly. In an attempt to make the tiles easier to service, most of them are the same shape. They are about 12-inches across and have a hexagonal shape, fitting together like a honeycomb. They have a mounting system that allows them to move a bit while not allowing "chipping." The nose cone is a bit more difficult to cover and there are flap hinges that need more attention. Unfortunately, some of the tiles fell off during Starship SN20's first test. This may have happened during stacking when Starship was lifted by the crane.

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Testing of Upper-stage Starship Prototypes

In this section: SN15 | SN10 - SN11 | SN9 | SN8

Starship SN15

Starship SN15 sports many improvements over previously flown prototypes. It was been stated that there were hundreds of changes! (Yes, SpaceX skipped some serial number designations.) First, the three Raptor engines are a new improved model. It is important to realize that these changes are made using the data that was obtained by previous test flights. According to Elon Musk the improvements include structures, avionics software, and engine improvements.

SN15 rolled out to launch pad A in Boca Chica on April 8, 2021, without a nose cone. That was added later. There were preflight tests including ambient temperature pressure, cryogenics tests, and static fire tests in late April. More heat tiles were applied to the rocket and it also sports a Starlink satellite antenna. On May 5, 2021, Starship SN15 was launched.

After a long wait, Starship SN15's Raptor Engines were started around 5:30 pm CDT. Taking off in a cloud of orange flames, SN15 rose slowly from the pad. It was visible for a few moments before disappearing into a low cloud bank. SpaceX provided a feed from the vessel, with a new camera attached to the upper flap that points along the side of the vessel and lower flap. The SpaceX cameras cut out at various stages, although the shutting down of the engines was not visible, but they came back to show that the vehicle was in belly flop and that the engines had been silenced.

After about 6 minutes of flight, SN15, came down at the edge of its intended landing zone. Two of the three Raptor engines were used, with the third moving out of the way to allow the vessel to touch down on the Earth. Although SN15 landed in an orange cloud, it obviously slid a bit across the surface, the landing legs were mangled and would have to be replaced before a re-f light. A methane fire at the bottom of the rocket burned for about 20 minutes but was handled by the fire suppression equipment. The heat shield tiles performed admirably, with only one casualty. Happily, Elon Musk has indicated that Starship SN15 may fly again!

Whether or not SN15 proves the reusability concept, Starship SN16 is in the high bay and will be launched in the near future.

SpaceX released the High-altitude Flight Recap of SN15.

Starship SN11

Shortly after the demise of SN10, Starship SN11 was rolled out to the pad. This is the end of the series, because the next Starship prototype that will be launched is SN15 that evidently has some significant improvements over the first series of full-up Starship prototypes with a complete nose cone.

SN11 was launched on March 29, 2021 on a foggy day over Boca Chica. There was no way to track the rocket through the fog visually. It appeared that there was some kind of anomaly restarting the Raptors and SN11 apparently blew up before reaching the ground as evidenced by the fact that debris was found over 10 km away.

SpaceX released the High-altitude Flight Recap of SN11.

Starship SN10

Starship SN10 was ferried to the launch pad on January 29, 2021, while SN9 was already on the pad, waiting for its chance to rise into the sky. The first static firing tests were run shortly thereafter.

Starship prototype rocket SN10 launched on March 3, 2021 at 5:14 p.m. US Central Time, rising into the sky over Boca Chica. Rising past wispy layers of clouds, SN10's flight was different from the last two as during the entire flight, a stream of white exhaust (?) plumes followed it into the sky. When one engine was shut down, the exhaust streaming from the remaining two engines showed two distinctly different colors, one stream was pale blue while the other sported an orange and yellow stream. The second Raptor shut down and SN10 continued on one engine until it hit 10km. Then it flipped on its side, belly flopping and floating in free fall until it was less than 2 km above the surface. Three engines were restarted, then switching down to one Raptor before touchdown.

The single Raptor was able to slow down the ship, but methane flames were shooting out on one side of the Starship. (Was a valve stuck open?) SN10 landed on the pad in a cloud of smoke and flame. It landed close to the spot that the SpaceX guidance system sent it. The landing was far from perfect though and it seemed to hit a little hard. It made a lurch as it was setting down, the landing wasn't exactly "stuck"! After the smoke cleared, I found myself studying the motionless SN10 Starship carefully for crumbled metal.

Starship SN10 stood atilt on the launch pad, listing to one side. A bright flame lapped from one side and a water fire suppressor began spraying water on the rocket. People cheered and turned off their cameras. Starship had returned safely to mother Earth, firmly listing on the ground! It was basically erect, for about 8 minutes. Unexpectedly, the whole launch pad was illuminated by a giant explosion. SN10 shot up at least 50 feet into the air, its second attempt at launch unassisted by flight controllers. It performed a second belly flop and smacked back down on the ground, the fuselage flattened. Metal pieces flew out in all directions. RUD all over the place!

It must be said that progress was made, for getting SN10 to flip from horizontal to vertical and landing it on the X, SpaceX that is!

SpaceX released the High-altitude Flight Recap of SN10.

Starship SN9

As 2021 opened, a shiny new Starship, SN9 was standing on the launch pad. High winds had knocked it off its test stand in the high bay where it was being assembled. It was quickly moved, repaired and rolled out to the launch pad. The first firing tests were run shortly thereafter.

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After some delays with FAA regulators, Starship SN9 was launched on February 2, 2021 at 3:25 p.m. EST from Boca Chica. SN9 rose up gracefully, lifted by three Raptor engines. As the ship rose higher, one Raptor was switched off, leaving an orange flame dancing about the rocket's skirt until the excess fuel was spent. SN9 continued to rise upward and a second engine was shut down. The Starship continued until it was just short of its target altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and the last engine went silent.

Starship SN9's flight plan was as SN8's before, the rocket flipped 90 degrees and began to fall toward Earth. It fell through the Earth's atmosphere, without power, dropping toward the surface soundlessly. Starship dropped to about 1.5 km before the flip maneuver was attempted. When the engines were restarted, two of them were supposed to kick in, but only one seemed to start up and keep burning. SN9 was tilted further over than its older sister. Like SN8 before, a giant orange smoky fireball signaled the demise of prototype SN9.

SpaceX released the High-altitude Flight Recap of SN9.

Starship SN8

When Starship SN8 was rolled out to the launch pad on September 26, 2020 it had no nose cone. On October 22, 2020, the nose cone was attached to the rocket by crews working at the pad. The nose cone was lifted to the top of Starship SN8 with a giant crane at SpaceX's Boca Chica, TX facility. SN8 was the first prototype that looked like a rocketship.

Flight of SN8

On December 9, 2020, Starship SN8 launched into the clear blue sky over Boca Chica, Texas while across the globe, hundreds of thousands people tuned into streaming videos. The silver craft was the prototype of a huge rocket, intended to launch humankind into space heading for the red planet, Mars. SpaceX started up the 3 raptor engines and they roared into action, and slowly, the silver rocket lifted off the launch pad and began an ascent that seemed incredibly slow.

It began traveling up into the blue Texan sky. A billowing cloud of smoke covered the launch area. White rings of condensation from the cold fuel begin to appear around the rocket. For almost two minutes the three engines continued the upward climb, then SpaceX shut down one of the raptors and the remaining two swiveled around to balance the load of the soaring silver craft. The unburned fuel of the now silent engine burned up in the engine skirt. Unfenced, SN8 continued soaring upward. Puffy white smoke exited the rocket while the bright flame of the active engines steamed out the bottom. The rocket began to tilt toward the ground.

A minute and a half later, a second raptor was silenced and the solitary raptor continued to carry SN8 upward. The straight red plume was surrounded by the puffy white exhaust of the silenced raptors. SpaceX began firing SN8's booster rocket at the middle of the vessel (mid-ship) tipping the rocket even more toward the ground. At around 4 minutes and 45 seconds the main engine was cut off (MECO) and the mid-ship booster fired. With no further propulsion SN8 begins to fall toward the Earth, from 12,000 feet in the air!

The mid-ship booster fired and SN8 fell sideways. An upper nitrogen booster fired off in the nose cone, its propulsive force guided the great silver Starship onto its side. The nose pointed slightly downward and the white rings on its body grew. The ship began its fatal fall about 5 minutes after launch. With nothing but gravity pulling it downward, the silver Starship fell steadily for one and a half minutes. Six minutes into the flight, it hit the smoke from the effort of its launch, falling through the cloud. With a roar, the raptor(s) came to life, the craft directly over its intended landing site. But the engines started up too late and a green flame from the rocket told that something had gone very wrong with at least one engine. The ground is too close! Starship SN8 hit the ground with a loud crash, the nose cone continuing toward Earth even as the crumbled rocket sides splattered. Nothing could be seen for several seconds but an ominous brown cloud with a bright orange flame where the rocket was still burning.

Six minutes and forty-two seconds after launch, the giant Starship SN8 was no more.

SpaceX released the high-altitude flight recap of SN8, conveniently embedded here at Stargate:

Early Starship Prototypes


Starhopper took a few brief flights in the summer of 2019, retiring after acing its own 500-foot-high hop that August. This first vessel was outfitted with one Raptor engine. The Raptor was first tested on April 3, 2019. Starhopper's first test flight reached 18 meters in July 2019. Starhopper's second reached an altitude of about 65 feet. Starhopper's final flight reached 150 meters on July 27, 2019. The entire flight was less than 1 minute, but Starhopper landed on point.

After Starhopper, SpaceX created a number of prototypes, known as MK1 to MK4, these test articles were unsuccessful, except for MK3 that was renamed to SN1. To be clear, the prototype being tested is the upper stage of the Starship launch system.

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Starship SN1 was undergoing a pressurization test on February 28, 2020 when a bulkhead failed. This tank was expected to fail and supply information on construction and tank capacities.

Starship SN2 was a stripped down version of the Starship prototype that successfully performed static firing tests in March 2020 and was then retired.

Starship SN3 was undergoing a pressurization test on April 3, 2020 when a bulkhead failed. Although SN3 passed an ambient temperature test the previous night, it failed the cryogenic (cold) pressure test.

Starship SN4 blew up on the launch pad May 29, 2020. This was SN4's fifth static-fire engine test. SpaceX was prepared and quickly set up SN5 for further testing.

Starship SN5

Starship SN5 successfully completes a 150meter hop

Starship SN5 completed a successful static fire test on July 30, 2020. This prototype used a single Raptor engine, SN27. It had no nose cone and looked like a cylinder capped with a squar-ish metal structure. A test of the prototype on August 3, 2020 resulted in a failure as a valve did not open, causing an automatic shutdown before launch.

On August 4, 2020, Starship SN5 successfully launched and flew 150 meters (500 feet) up. It traveled sideways a bit during the brief uncrewed flight. After less than a minute, the spacecraft deployed its landing legs as planned and stuck the landing. The SpaceX navigational system for accurately landing its rockets was shown to be successful on the new Starship design.

Starship SN6+

Starship SN6 was another cylinder without a proper nose cone that was rolled out shortly after the SN5 hop. After a successful static fire test, on September 3, 2020, Starship SN6 successfully launched and flew 150 meters (500 feet) up. Again the spacecraft deployed its landing legs as planned and stuck the landing. This prototype used a single Raptor engine, SN29. The next prototype labeled SN7 was really just a tank pressure test. It was destroyed when the tank was overfilled on June 23, 2020. An additional prototype, dubbed SN7.1 was also destroyed by pressure testing on September 23, 2020.

Please note that many of the images on the SpaceX pages at Astra's are available at SpaceX Flickr site where they have been released into the public domain. Some have been modified to fit the available space at Stargate site by cropping and/or optimization so for best practices please use the official site. This webpage is ©2023 D. E. Jenkins all rights reserved. Please use the contact page to get permission to use this content or to send comments or corrections.

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