Photo credit: BocaChicaGal / NASASpaceflight
|Fate:||Positioned in the rocket garden on May 2022|
The first component of Ship 20 (originally known as SN20) was the leg skirt which was spotted on March 7, 2021. It was reported by NASASpaceFlight.com that SN20 with BN3 would attempt an orbital test launch by July 1, 2021.
According to a filing with the FCC for the planned test flight, BN3 & SN20 would launch from Boca Chica with the Super Heavy booster then performing a partial return, touching down 20 miles/32.1 km off shore. SN20 would continue on its flight path between the islands in the Caribbean before performing an expendable splash down landing 100km north of Kauai in Hawaii. The soft landing is scheduled to take place after Starship performs a successful bellyflop, flip and landing manoeuvre.
In late June SN20 was re-designated from SN20 to Ship 20, with stacking operations underway in the Mid Bay not long after. The launch appeared to take on new urgency with Elon Musk ordering several hundred of SpaceX’s employees at Hawthorne to relocate to Boca Chica to speed up the development of Ship 20 and Booster 4, along with the Orbital Launch Platform to have the Starship system on the pad by August 5.
In early August Ship 20 had the flaps fitted to the dome and aft section, before being moved to the High Bay in preparation for final stacking on August 3 which had been vacated by Booster 4’s move to the Orbital Launch Pad. The dome was stacked in the early hours of August 4.
On August 5, Ship 20 was rolled out to the Orbital Launch Pad. Elon Musk noted that stacking the ship onto the booster had to be delayed due to higher than anticipated winds, but SpaceX took the opportunity to continue to attach more Thermal Protection Tiles to some of the exposed sections, completing tiling by 4:40am. The final stack took place on August 6 at 7:56am, marking the first time a Super Heavy Booster and the second stage Starship had been stacked, representing the largest rocket in human history to date.
Ship 20 remained stacked to Booster 4 for a few hours before being unstacked and returned to the production site for further works, including having its engines removed on August 7. At the same time it appeared that an inspection on the thermal protection tiles was being performed, as they were being marked with coloured tape. On August 11, Ship 20 was moved out of the High Bay.
Ship 20 returned to the launch site on August 13, despite having some of the TPS tiles removed and yet to be replaced. On August 17 it was lifted onto Suborbital Pad B, it is assumed that it will go through a period of cryogenic testing and static fires before it is again lifted on top of Booster 4. By the end of August the engineers had made visible progress on replacing and preparing the TPS tiles ahead of its test flight.
September 5 saw three new raptors (69, 73 and 78) arrive at the launch site, presumably for installation on Ship 20, with installation of the first being prepared for not long after with the replacement of TPS tiles on the nosecone nearing completion. Ship 20 conducted an ambient pressure test, with a header tank vent resulting in several of the thermal protection tiles being dislodged as reported by Elon. During the night of September 27/28 the first cryogenic pressure test took place. A close up photo was taken after the testing by Nic Ansuini showed what he believed was the cause – gas being caught under the thermal blanket throwing some of the tiles loose.
On the night of September 29/30, Ship 20 underwent a second cryogenic pressure test. At 11:39pm on October 18, Ship 20 saw a preburner test with a brief flash observed on the NASA Space Flight stream. The first static fire test for Ship 20 took place on October 21 at 7:16pm with a single raptor sea level engine and one vacuum engine fitted and a second took place at 8:18pm. The static fires were observed by Starship Gazer, NASA Spaceflight Now and Austin Barnard as well as SpaceX releasing their own footage.
Two vacuum raptor engines were spotted being moved to the launch site on October 29, and both were installed onto Ship 20 after arrival. The first six engine static fire test took place on November 12 and was recorded by NASASpaceFlight as well as Starship Gazer. Scott Manley observed that the test firing had more thrust then any other rocket in the world. A flap test took place on November 16.
Elon Musk gave an interview to the SSB & BPA Joint Fall Meeting on November 17 (watch here), revealing more details about the Starship program including a targeted launch date of January/February 2022 for S20/B4. A static fire test was planned for December 1, but was aborted close to ignition.
On December 15 it was noticed that the crane attach points were being removed, and work on the nose cone TPS continued so that by December 24 the crane attachment points had been covered. A new static fire took place on December 29 which was observed by the NASA Spaceflight stream.
Ship 20 was removed from Suborbital Pad B on January 22, 2022 and was placed on a transporter before being moved towards the Orbital Launch Pad. On the night of February 8/9, Ship 20 was placed at the base of the launch tower so that the “chop sticks” could perform the lift onto Booster 4 ahead of a Starship Update to be given by Elon Musk. The stack was completed during the night of February 9/10, with Ship 20 remaining supported by the chop stick arms.
On February 14 Ship 20 was de-stacked again from Booster 4 and lowered to the ground before being moved the next day. Ship 20 was then cryogenically tested on February 16, and then for a second time on February 22. Ship 20 was stacked with Booster 4 again on March 15. The first ever stacked cryogenic pressure test took place on the night of March 16/17, with a follow up propellant loading test being completed on March 18. The next night on March 19 saw Ship 20 being destacked from Booster 4 for what is believed to be the final time.
Ship 20 was moved to Suborbital Pad B on April 7 and positioned next to it. On May 11 Ship 20 was rolled back to the production facility and positioned with the other boosters and ships. In video posted by Tim Dodd during a tour of Starbase with Elon Musk, Tim asked whether there would be a suborbital flight of Ship 20 to which Elon replied “we’re done”, suggesting that Ship 20 had reached the end of its useful life and had been retired. Elon elaborated that they felt they had learned everything they could from the suborbital flights, and would move onto orbital flights with the focus on Ship 24 and Booster 7.
All dates & times are local unless otherwise indicated.