In a brief exchange on Twitter, it appears that Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (BRO) has spoken to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to convert a retired spacecraft prototype into a public exhibit.
SpaceX’s Starship Factory has been operating in some form since 2020, and it’s already a somewhat touristy destination for Brownsville, Texas, and the local Rio Grande Valley — especially for fans of spaceflight and rockets. big factory And the There are three orbital and sub-orbital launch pads right alongside a public highway, a small private apartment complex, and a public beach — maintaining access to all of that has been a constant challenge for SpaceX for years.
However, the company continued to work on coexistence with the local population while at the same time generating tourism, unprecedented economic growth and publicity for the relatively quiet area. It is increasingly unclear whether SpaceX will be able to fully realize its ambitions in StarBus and South Texas, but Elon Musk Repeat recently The company’s commitment to maintaining a strong presence in the region whether or not the US government grants it the permissions it needs to launch the Starship regularly.
Musk’s willingness to donate a full prototype of the Starship to a local organization certainly represents that commitment. While Starbase is indeed a de facto tourist destination where people can come within a stone’s throw of several prototypes of the largest rockets ever built, the setup for visitors is very impromptu and inconvenient and right next to an active highway and missile factory. A custom view of the spacecraft in a less insane location with dedicated parking and no need to tiptoe around a highway would undoubtedly be an improvement.
Locating this public spacecraft display right next to the largest domestic airport would also prevent potential visitors from needing to drive half an hour out of their way, ensuring more people get to experience the spacecraft up close and learn about SpaceX’s presence in the area. . Fortunately, the increasingly unusual behavior means that SpaceX has no shortage of prototypes to choose from.
Spacecraft SN15 It is the first prototype of any kind to fly to a moderate altitude (about 10 km), then return to Earth like a skydiver, flip over at the last second, and survive an easy landing in May 2021. Musk once said that the historic prototype will be recreated used it in a second flight test but the ship never did and has instead sat in the ‘Rocket Garden’ at Starbase ever since. SN16 spacecraft – Almost identical to SN15 – It was also meant to fly but not a single test was done before it was retired to the same park.
Then, SpaceX mostly finished a full heavy booster — standing at 70 meters (230 feet) — late last year, but sent it (B5) straight to “the park” without even trying to finish or test the rocket. Its supporting sister, Super Heavy B4, was at one point supposed to support the Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, but it only completed a fraction of the necessary proof-of-tests after spending nearly half a year floating around the orbital launch site. It is entirely possible that the B4 will end alongside the B5 later this year.
Finally, SpaceX decided recently S22 . spacecraft assembly – very similar to the Starship S20, the other half of the first orbital test flight pair of the B4/S20 – and the ship was docked to full height on February 14, 2022. After installing the nosecone and the last two of the four flaps, though, SpaceX immediately dispatched The incomplete spacecraft will be moved to the same graveyard as retired prototypes, which implies that it will not be used either.
Despite the growing confusion from a software point of view, SpaceX’s ever-increasing supply of retired or completely unused Starship and Super Heavy hardware gives the company plenty of options to donate one or even several prototypes. The only real drawbacks are the need for a concrete foundation to secure the display vehicles and the challenge of transporting building-size vertical missiles by road. To get the Starship all the way to Brownsville International Airport, a number of power lines and traffic lights will likely need to be temporarily removed or rerouted, but this is a relatively minor inconvenience with sufficient political will.