The Developement of the SpaceX Starship Vehicle

Since 2018, SpaceX has been working on what is intended to be a fully reusable, two-stage orbital vehicle.

The concept for Starship was introduced back in 2005 under the name BFR, short for "Big Falcon Rocket".

Development on the program did not start until late 2018, when Starhopper was built. Since then,

Starship has progressed through several phases of testing, and has recently begun its orbital flight campaign.

Low Altitude Test Flight Campaign

Before the first flight of a Starship vehicle, a first test vehicle was built, known as

Mark 1 or MK1. It did not reach flight as it had a structural failure during a pressure test.

The first vehicle to fly in the Low Altitude Test Flight Campaign was Starhopper. It's first flight

was a 20 meter, or about 65 foot, tethered hop, which tested the capabilities of the engine that

powers Starship: the Raptor engine. This flight also tested landing capabilities using three

supports located on the exterior of the vehicle. It succeeded in this tethered hop on July 25, 2019.

On August 27, 2019, Starhopper flew a 150 meter hop test just as successfully as its tethered hop.

After this, Starhopper was moved off to the side of the launch site, and new vehicles were given the

"SN" designation, meaning Serial Number. On February 28, 2020, SN1 was tested, and failed during a

pressure test. This led to SN2 being a test tank, which passed its pressure test and was retired.

SN3 crumpled into two pieces due to a pressure loss during a cryogenic proof test, intended to see if it could

survive the thermal and pressure conditions whilist in flight. This was said to have happened due to a

sequencing incident. SN4 experienced what SpaceX calls a "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly", or RUD for short,

after a static fire. Following this, SN7, another test tank, was intentionally pushed to failure.

After that, on August 4th, 2020, SN5 would successfully fly to an altitude of 150 meters, or about

492 feet on the power of one raptor engine. SN6 would repeat this. This was the end of the Low-Altitude Test Campaign.

High Altitude Test Flight Campaign

SN8 performed many on-ground tests like those of previous Starship prototypes, however, SN8 was different from previous prototypes

as it was powered by three Raptor engines, had flaps, and was the first full size Starship prototype. Not counting the flaps, Starship

is 9 meters wide and 50 meters tall, in imperial, that's nearly 30 feet wide and 164 feet tall. After these tests had been completed,

SN8 lifted off on December 9th, 2020, slowly toggling its engines off as it reached an altitude of 12.5 kilometers, or approximately

41,000 feet up. At that altitude, SN8 briefly hovered before doing a horizontial descent, using its own size as a means of aerobraking,

alongside using its flaps to maintain aerodynamic stability- that is, to fall smoothly. Shortly before reaching the ground, SN8 retracted

its aft flaps, extended its forward flaps, and lit two of its engines. It successfully flipped to a vertical orientation, before one of its

engines failed due to a fuel tank pressure issue- this was quite visible, as the exhaust of the engine turned a green color, before it crashed

into the edge of the landing pad.

On February 2nd, 2021, SN9 flew on a similar flight path; the only major difference in its intended flight path was a maximum height of 10 kilometers,

or about 32,800 feet. However, on its landing attempt, SN9 suffered an engine failure, which created a loss of balance, in turn, flipping the vehicle far

past vertical, causing it to crash. On March 3rd, 2021, SpaceX flew SN10 on the smame flight path. This time, all three engines were relit for landing, which was soon reduced

to one engine. appeared to work, as it was still in one piece upon landing. However, it landed too fast, which led to a fuel leak, leading to a post landing RUD of SN10.

SN11 flew the same flight path on 3/30/2021, however, an engine failure occured on startup of the landing burn, causing it to have a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD) midair.

There is no clear footage of this incident as during the flight, there was fog in the area. On some videos, this is seen as a patch of fog briefly turning orange.

The final flight of the High Altitude Test Flight Campaign was that of SN15, on May 5, 2021. It flew to an altitude of 10 kilometers, once again pulling off its horizontial descent maneuver,

but this time, SN15 descended from the clouds and stuck the landing, and it is still at the SpaceX launch site in South Texas to this day.

Orbital Flight Test Campaign

From 5/5/2021 until 4/20/2023, there was no flight activity from the South Texas Site, however, work was being done on orbital launch pad and tower.

During this time period, the "SN" term was dropped in favor of S and B; S meaning Ship and B meaning Booster. Three boosters and two ships were tested;

those being B3, B4, and B7, as well as S20 and S24. B3, aka Booster 3's major test was a static fire with three vaccuum raptor engines; these are more

suited to run higher up in the atmosphere and outside of it. S20 and B4 were the first to be stacked on the Orbital Launch Pad, B7 was the first to do

a static fire with 33 engines, then on April 20th, 2023, S24 and B7 lifted off after idling on the pad for nearly 10 seconds with 30 engines running, with 3 out from the start,

sliding away from the pad, making a quick correction, allowing it rose to an altitude of 39 kilometers, as engines failed, eventually knockiung out control systems,

and losing control and tumbling from 34km, to 39, then to 29km, while spinning a total of four times before the flight termination system (FTS) destroyed the vehicle.

Adding both the booster and ship, a fully integrated Starship is 120 meters, or about 393 feet tall.

Here's all the pictures in this project file:

All Images: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Image by Official SpaceX Photos on Flickr

All footage that shows a mission timer clock originates from SpaceX livestreams

The footage of SN10's RUD shown was used by BBC News, which labels the footage source as "Spadre / Pearl South Padre Resort via YouTube"