The picture appears to show the Starship SN20 ("Serial No. 20") prototype during fit checks on Friday (Aug. 4) with the first-stage Super Heavy rocket, when the stacked rocket briefly became the tallest one in the world.
The picture provides a close-up view of the mating procedure between Starship and Super Heavy, with engineers perched underneath. The picture is reminiscent of the famous black-and-white "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper Photograph" taken by Charles Clyde Ebbets on September 20, 1932 during construction of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
Musk didn't post any comment with the picture Sunday (Aug. 6), although he had lots to say on his Twitter feed about the fit check. In several tweets, Musk wrote that it is "an honor to work with such a great team," and added that it's a "Dream come true," to see the vehicle stacked.
Super Heavy alone stands 230 feet (70 meters) tall and the Starship craft adds another 165 feet (50 m) of height. Together they stand 395 feet tall (120 m), taller than any other rocket including NASA's famous Saturn V moon rocket, which was 363 feet tall (110 m).
But when the duo will blast off for the first-ever Starship orbital flight attempt is unknown. The spacecraft and its rocket must undergo numerous technical examinations before getting clearance to lift off from the launch pad near the village of Boca Chica, Texas. Both the Super Heavy and Starship SN20 are expected to undergo separate static fire tests. SpaceX is also waiting on a Starship launch operations environmental review from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has an unclear completion date.
On Twitter, Musk also wrote that Starship and its Super Heavy booster need at least "4 significant items" before they'd be ready to fly. Those items are final heat shield tiles for Starship, thermal protection for Super Heavy's engines, more ground system propellant storage tanks, and a quick-disconnect arm for Starship, which will likely be attached to the pad's gantry tower.
SpaceX has tested several prototypes in flight, but this will be the first orbital attempt for the Starship program. The orbital flight plan submitted to the FAA suggests the Super Heavy Booster 4, after hefting its first Starship prototype to orbit, will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore. Starship will boost itself to orbit, circle Earth once and return over the Pacific Ocean, near the Hawaiian island of Kauai, about 90 minutes after launch.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace