SpaceX has at long last transported its fifth full-scale Starship prototype to a nearby launch pad, kicking off a week of busy pre-test preparations while the sixth rocket is already nipping at its heels.
Starship SN5’s move to the pad ends the longest gap between full-scale prototype testing since Starship Mk1 was destroyed in November 2019, a partially-expected failure that began a more than three-month period of infrastructure upgrades. The first upgraded Starship (SN1) rolled to the pad on February 25th, followed by SN3 on March 29th and SN4 on April 23rd, indicative of a fairly consistent monthly cadence of Starship production (and destruction).
Almost exactly two months after its predecessor headed from the factory to SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas launch facilities, Starship SN5 has taken its place on a brand new launch mount. The cause of that month-long delay is fairly simple. When Starship SN4 exploded on May 29th, it damaged the existing launch mount and some additional ground support equipment (GSE), forcing SpaceX to scrap the destroyed mount and build a new one from scratch. In a matter of weeks, SpaceX’s crack team of pad engineers and technicians have done exactly that.
While, judging from several sets of canceled road closure days, the new mount wasn’t built quite as quickly as someone high up in SpaceX would have hoped, the speed of the recovery from SN4’s destructive demise is still extremely impressive. For full-scale operations, SpaceX needs a strong metal structure capable of providing a Starship prototype the propellant, power, and communications links it needs to perform tests, as well as standing up to the weight of a full-loaded Starship (>1000 metric tons) and preventing the rocket from flying away during static Raptor engine tests. Additionally, the launch mount will eventually need to survive the fury of one and even three Raptor engines once Starships graduated to flight testing.