Just over one week ago SpaceX successfully stacked their massive Starship system at their operations base in Texas, for the first time using their new “chopsticks” methodology – grabbing a prototype of the Starship crew vehicle and raising it to the top of a huge Super Heavy booster. By contrast, NASA continues to perform hoisting within their gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, as they have recently done with what will be the first Artemis assembly of the Space Launch System/Orion spacecraft. In a few months Artemis will undertake an unmanned mission to the moon before crew operations get underway within a year.
As for Starship? The ultimate goal is a large crew bound for Mars. But last week speculation ran rampant about exactly what visions SpaceX head Elon Musk might reveal at a scheduled media gathering and worldwide streaming event in the immediate wake of the Starship stacking. The thought was that if Elon said anything hard to believe, we may be the ones that need to rethink that belief. After all, the amount of progress SpaceX has made has been stunning. Ten years ago, I toured what was the humble SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. To see the visions presented back then come to fruition has been beyond impressive. And there are plenty of near-future developments in store. For example, those Starship chopsticks aren’t just for lifting – the plan is to use them to snatch a returning booster out of the sky. Impossible? We’ll see about that…
The fully-stacked Starship system prototype, beautifully captured by photographer John Kraus ( @johnkrausphotos ) the morning after the stacking operation. The operation had begun the night before as the clock neared midnight, taking place in darkness.
In the aftermath of Musk’s actual remarks at his showy evening Starship status gathering, some observers have expressed disappointment. There was no bold announcement of imminent breakthroughs, just a report on concrete progress. But the very fact that a Starship prototype loomed in the skies above a place now known as Starbase, Texas… Well, that was a statement in itself.