SpaceX’s giant Super Heavy rocket spotted from space in satellite photo
Maxar Technologies’ WorldView-3 satellite captured this image of SpaceX’s Starbase site in South Texas on Aug. 9, 2021. Two Starship Super Heavy boosters are visible in the image: Booster 3 at left and the 29-engine Booster 4 at right, on the Starbase orbital launch mount. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies)
SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket looks big, even from space.
On Aug. 9, Maxar Technologies’ WorldView-3 satellite snapped a great shot of SpaceX’s “Starbase” facility in South Texas, where the company is building and testing its Starship deep-space transportation system.
SpaceX is developing Starship to take people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. The system consists of two fully reusable elements: a 230-foot-tall (70 meters) first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 m) spacecraft called Starship, which sits atop the huge rocket.
A closeup of the Starship Super Heavy known as Booster 4 on the orbital launch mount at SpaceX’s Starbase site in South Texas. Photo captured on Aug. 9, 2021, by Maxar Technologies’ WorldView-3 satellite. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies)
The WorldView-3 photo captures two different Super Heavy vehicles: Booster 3, which is resting on a suborbital launch pad near the left edge of the picture, and Booster 4, which is perched on an orbital launch mount at the right. Both vehicles cast long shadows, towering over the Gulf Coast landscape and most of Starbase’s structures.
Booster 3 will never get off the ground. The 29-engine Booster 4, however, is being prepped for the Starship program’s first-ever orbital test flight. The giant vehicle was hoisted onto the orbital launch mount on Aug. 5. A day later, technicians stacked the six-engine Starship prototype SN20 (“Serial No. 20”) atop Booster 4, assembling the tallest rocket in all of history.
That same day, however, the huge duo was destacked, allowing SpaceX to perform additional work on Booster 4 and SN20.
It’s unclear when Booster 4 and SN20 will fly. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk recently said that the duo should be ready to go in a few weeks, “pending regulatory approval.”
That’s a reference to the environmental assessment of the Starbase orbital launch site that’s currently being conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And approval appears to be at least a month away, given that the FAA will accept public comments for 30 days after releasing its draft review, which has not yet happened.
WorldView-3, which is operated by Maxar subsidiary DigitalGlobe, launched to Earth orbit in August 2014. The sharp-eyed satellite is capable of resolving features as small as 12 inches (31 centimeters) on our planet’s surface.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.