SpaceX Starship 20 moved to join Booster 4 on launch pad

SpaceX continues to push hard towards the first stack of a Starship and Super Heavy vehicle. Super Heavy Booster 4 is currently positioned on the launch pad and SpaceX is working towards the stacking of Starship 20 as soon as today.

Super Heavy Booster 4 stacked on Orbital Launch Pad

SpaceX lifted the Super Heavy Booster 4 onto the Orbital Launch Pad for the first time Wednesday. This occurred over several hours as SpaceX carefully moved the large, stainless steel booster from the transporter to the launch pad. Booster 4 is the first to feature a full array of 29 Raptor engines and 4 steel grid fins.

While Booster 3, currently located at Test Stand A, looks like a large metal silo, Booster 4 weirdly looks like a scaled-up Falcon 9 booster. The crane that was used to lift Booster 4 onto the launch pad was disconnected Thursday morning to prepare to lift Starship 20.

No static fires of Booster 4 are expected in the short term. However, Starship 20 could be integrated into the stack as soon as today. The current plan is for both Booster 4 and Starship 20 to fly the Orbital Launch Attempt.

Starship 20 moved to launch pad

Thursday morning, SpaceX moved Starship 20 to the launch site, following the integration of its nosecone in the High Bay. A Ground Fuel Tank accompanied Starship 20 on the journey. SpaceX plans on stacking Starship 20 with Booster 4 sometime this week, potentially as soon as today.

SpaceX moving Starship 20 and a GSE tank to the launch site. Credit: Nic Ansuini
SpaceX’s Starship 20 alongside Booster 3. Credit: Nic Ansuini

Starship 20 is the first Starship vehicle with its sights set on an orbital flight. This differs from the 5 versions we saw in the past year that were built to validate the design could fly and land. Starship 20 is the first vehicle to have most of the thermal protection tiles. These tiles will protect Starship from the heat experienced during atmospheric reentry. Ship 20 also features smaller and lighter aft-fins, something Elon Musk mentioned was an improvement found following the test flights.

The stacking of Starship 20 and Super Heavy Booster 4 is coming near. Teams are working around the clock to prepare the site and both vehicles. SpaceX could attempt to stack Starship 20 as soon as today. However, the schedule is fluid due to the complex nature of the vehicles.

Starship thermal protection tiles could need some work

Now that Starship is at the launch site, we can now get a good, up-close look at the thermal protection tiles. SpaceX has yet to finish installing all the tiles onto Starship. Most of the missing tiles can be seen around where the aerodynamic flaps are connected and the bottom portion of the nose cone.

A view of SpaceX’s thermal protection tiles on the underside of Starship 20. Credit: Nic Ansuini

SpaceX still has plenty of time to fix any tile issues or finish the installations. The FAA and SpaceX are still working on an Environmental Assessment for Starship/Super Heavy orbital operations. This alone could keep the first orbital Starship launch from happening for several months still.

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