SpaceX Super Heavy 'High Bay' Work Begins in Boca Chica

Tue July 14, 2020 - West Edition #15
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SpaceX could be ready to begin producing the first Super Heavy booster prototypes as early as September or October.
SpaceX could be ready to begin producing the first Super Heavy booster prototypes as early as September or October.



After several weeks of preparations, SpaceX has begun assembling the massive ‘high bay' it will use to stack and outfit Starship's massive Super Heavy boosters.

Over the last six months, SpaceX has been expanding and upgrading its Boca Chica Starship factory, part of which has included building multiple ‘high bays' (also known as vehicle/vertical assembling builds or VABs). Those buildings have been sized specifically for Starship production and are not even tall enough to allow Starships to be fully integrated, instead serving as bays for the assembly of Starship tank sections.

The VAB SpaceX has been almost exclusively using for the last four or so months is roughly 115-ft. tall, leaving just enough clearance for Starship tank sections to be stacked by an external crane on simple work stands. The Starship VAB is also wide enough for two ships to be simultaneously stacked and outfitted, a capability SpaceX recently took advantage of while building Starships SN4, SN5 and SN6. With a conical nose section installed, Starship alone will measure about 165 ft. from tail to tip — more than 70 percent as tall as an entire two-stage Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket. The ship's Super Heavy booster (first stage), however, is dramatically larger, still, and will need its own similarly-sized production facilities.

Measuring at least 230-ft. tall, Super Heavy boosters will singlehandedly be the same height as an entire Falcon 9 or Heavy rocket — already extremely tall as far as modern orbital-class rockets go. Fully stacked, Starship and Super Heavy will be about 395-ft. tall — approximately 25 percent shy of the technical definition of a skyscraper. To build rockets that large, SpaceX will need to build some unique facilities – especially so given that Starships must be assembled vertically.

While the existing Starship VAB is large enough for SpaceX to begin stacking roughly half of a Super Heavy booster at a time, it would defeat the purpose of having a VAB — shielding the final assembly process from winds and weather.

To complete the new VAB, some 32 of those prefab sections will likely need to be installed, ultimately producing a high bay that is almost identical to the Starship VAB but tall enough to fully stack Super Heavy boosters. Based on Starship's VAB construction schedule, beginning on Jan. 16, and effectively complete by mid-March, SpaceX could be ready to begin producing the first Super Heavy booster prototypes as early as September or October.