Introduction: "Starship SN20" Metal 1:100 Scale Model
Hey everyone! I built a scale model of SpaceX's Starship SN20 prototype out of metal, which features movable wings and a heat shield made of individual hexagonal tiles! While this model takes considerable time (20+ hours) and skill to assemble, it is constructed using simple tools and materials. The design and construction practices for this model can be also be used to construct future operational versions of Starship, a vehicle that will undoubtedly revolutionize space travel and usher in a new space age! Starship is currently under development by private spaceflight company SpaceX on the south coast of Texas, is intended to be 100% reusable, and will hopefully facilitate manned missions to the Moon and Mars.
While the hull of the real Starship is made of stainless steel, I used aluminum flashing because it's much easier to cut and bend but looks very similar. I used a free .pdf pattern available from axmpaperspace.com that I printed out and then transferred onto the aluminum. The aluminum can be bought at many hardware and building supply stores. If working with metal seems daunting, this model can also be build out of metallic cardstock which is more forgiving, and there are now patterns for the "Super Heavy" booster (the booster that will launch Starship SN20) that can be constructed as well. All the patterns are free, and are the amazing work of my friend Alfonso X. Moreno. I encourage you to go check out his website!
While previous prototypes have been flown on short hop flights to test flight control and landing hardware, the prototype modeled here (dubbed SN20) will be sent into orbit and try to reenter the atmosphere intact, necessitating a heat shield made up of thousands of hexagonal ceramic tiles.The model's heat shield (sometimes called a Thermal Protection System or TPS) is made with large black hexagonal glitter, held on by sticker paper. The sticker paper also mimics the appearance of the white fabric that is underneath the tiles of the real Starship.
Honestly, while I really like the look of the heat shield when constructed in this way, as it looks super real, it takes a really long time to construct. I can only make a few square inches of it in an hour. As of writing, I still have a long way to go with it, and may not finish it, especially considering that SN20 is only a prototype. SpaceX plans to change the design of the upper wings (canards) on future versions to make them smaller and further from the belly of Starship. There will be other changes as well, because there is currently no way for Starship to deploy payloads of any sort, as the hull doesn't have any doors. So, keep all that in mind; this model is essentially a prototype of a prototype, meant to test construction techniques and see just how realistic we can get with a model of the amazing flying machine that is Starship! This instructable is my entry into the 2021 Space Contest!
Aluminum flashing metal, the thinner the better. You will need about 9 square feet of it in total. Mine I already had lying around, so I don't have a specific source to refer you to (sorry).
Large hexagonal black glitter, I bought mine here. I bought 2 of the half-ounce jars just to make sure I wouldn't run out
14 sheets of cardstock (I used US letter size which is 8.5x11 inches)
4 sheets of white sticker paper, I used this product
A computer with the ability to open PDF documents, connected to a working printer
A tube of E6000+ adhesive
Silicone self-healing cutting mat
A tube of liquid super glue
Ultra Fine "Sharpie" (permanent marker)
Spring-loaded clothespins or other small-but-strong spring clips
Dremel (rotary tool)
Thick non-corrugated cardboard
Small razor knife
Clear cellophane tape
Dead pen (ball-point pen that no longer writes)
Small diameter metal rod
Step 1: Download and Print the Pattern
Open the pattern here. Print pages 2-11, 14, 20-22.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that all page scaling is turned off or set at 100%, and that things like "fit to page" are not check-marked. To preserve scale we want to print the document as-is without alteration. Print quality isn't vital and black-and-white is fine. Print on cardstock, as it will give much better results than paper when we go to the next step.
Step 2: Cut Out the Pieces, Trace Them Onto Metal
The next step is to cut out the pieces of the paper pattern. For this, I use scissors, but for some of the long straight lines I use the razor knife. I use the ruler as a straightedge to guide the knife. I do this on the self-healing cutting mat so I don't damage my work surface.
Then, we will lay the cardstock pieces onto the metal sheet and trace around them with the fine point sharpie. You can then cut around the outlines that you've made on the metal. Take note that we want to cut inside of the black marker line. This creates the metal pieces we will use to build the model itself. In the photos above you can see some of the pieces that will make up Starship's nose cone. This is where we will start.
If you are new to Instructables, you should know that you can click on the photos to see them larger, and they often include important information in the form of picture notes.
Step 3: Glue the Strips Together & Begin Stacking
The next step is to use the E6000+ to glue the strips to each other. The nose cone is made up of sections that stack onto one another, and each section is made up of two strips, one having smooth edges all around and one having a saw-tooth edge. The saw-toothed one goes underneath the one with smooth edges. Start by gluing one end together and holding it with a clothespin, as shown in the first picture. When that is dry, you can put more glue between the two strips and then curl them around an pin them in a ring shape as shown in the second picture.
Next, we will stack the pieces together to build the nosecone. Start from the bottom and work your way to the top. Line up all the seams in the rings. Clear cellophane tape is useful for holding things together until the glue dries. Also, if a seam sticks up more than it should, you can run some super glue into it and hold it down until it dries.
Step 4: Cut the Metal Pieces Out & Drill a Few Holes
Some of the pieces that make up the nosecone have black spots to represent Starship's thrusters, and we can simulate these in our model by transferring the marks from the paper to the metal and then drilling a hole in the metal. In order to transfer the marks, first cut holes in the paper pieces, then lay the paper over the metal and poke the sharpie through the holes in the paper to mark the metal underneath. Then, you simply have to drill holes where you have made your marks. Drill those holes out before starting the next step. Another thing you could do before moving to the next step is to engrave lines in the metal pieces to match the lines on the paper pattern. These lines show where the metal plates are welded together on the real Starship. You will see the engraving process in the following steps and can decide if it is worth the effort.
Step 5: Create the Sheets That Make Up the Body of Starship
Now that the nosecone is done, we'll move on to building the body of Starship. To do this, take the matching pairs of rectangular pieces from the pattern and lay them side-by-side on the metal sheet, then trace them and cut out the resulting shape. In the paper pattern, these are two separate sheets but we will make them one long metal sheet to simplify construction.
Next, we need to transpose some of the horizontal lines from the paper sheets onto the metal ones. The real Starship is made up of stacked rings, and these marks will simulate the appearance of that on the model.
Step 6: Engrave the Rings
Now that we have the rings marked, we need to engrave them. For this, we will use a rotary tool with a small drill bit in it. To keep the bit from squirreling around and ruining our sheet, we will keep it going straight using a template that we will cut out of cardboard. First, find a piece of thick cardboard and cut a narrow slit in it, just enough for the drill bit to slide through. Then, we will lay the cardboard over the metal sheet so that we can see the mark made by the permanent marker. Next, run the rotary tool on low speed and slide the drill bit along the face of the metal sheet, applying minimal pressure and maintaining a 45 degree angle. Once you have engraved all the lines on the sheet, you can use rubbing alcohol to remove what is left of the permanent marker marks. Before moving onto the next step, consider what other details you want to try to add to the sheets. As you can see in the final picture, I decided to drill out a few holes.
Step 7: Make the Sheets Into Cylinders
Now that we've got the lines engraved into the sheets, we need to add a tab to the end of each one and then curl them around to form cylinders. Click through the photos to see the process, it is pretty self explanatory.
Step 8: Make Internal Support 'Doughnuts'
In this step, we will make internal supports to help the model keep a rounded shape. These "doughnuts" are made up of two pieces of metal that are stacked one on top of the other. The hole in the middle of the doughnut is so that you can stick your fingers through it, and this will help you if you can only get access to one side of the doughnut while installing it. The hole isn't necessary if you can access both side of the doughnut. You will need to install these near the ends of each of the cylinders that we made in the previous step. I used four, one in the top of each cylinder and one in the bottom of the largest, and lower-most, cylinder of the model.
Step 9: Prepare to Stack the Nosecone and Body
Now that we have the nosecone and the cylinders that make up the body finished, we just have to add a few strips of metal to help us to join them together. In the picture above you can see that I am cutting out the strip with a saw-toothed edge. This one is for joining the uppermost part of Starship's body to the nosecone. The other strip in the pattern has smooth edges, and you will have to make two of them as they will be used to join the other sections of the body. It is important to pay attention during this assembly phase that you don't join the body sections upside-down. Refer back to the pieces of the paper pattern to make sure that you don't have one of the sections inverted.
Step 10: Mark Where the Wings Will Go
Now that the body has been constructed, you need to figure out where the wings will attach. For the lower wings, you should cut the rectangular portions from the sides of the paper pattern (see picture). This will allow you to line up the paper piece with the seams of the model and trace where the rectangular cutout is. If you do this on both sides of the model it will give you indicator marks that show where the wings will attach. For the upper wings (I've heard them called canards) you have to transpose marks that are on the paper pattern. These will show you where the top and bottom of the canards will line up.
Step 11: Build the Wings
To build the wings, first cut out the sheets of metal that we will use to construct them. As you can see, I decided to go ahead and engrave some of the lines in the wing surfaces. One thing to take note of is that you shouldn't engrave or otherwise score the line that goes down the middle of each sheet. We want to make a graceful bend there, and a score mark or engraved line would create a hinge point and a sharp bend. To make the hard bends required for the flaps that hold the wings together, use a dead pen (ball-point pen that no longer writes) and a ruler to score the lines first. This will make the bends sharp. To fold the two halves of the wings together, I used a pencil to help make the bend rounded.
Step 12: Build the Wing Supports
In this step, we will build the wing supports, the parts that help the wings interface with the body of Starship. For the larger wings at the base of Starship, the supports are long rectangular boxes that have a slightly curved underside to help them interface with the curve of Starship's body. Again, use the dead pen and ruler to make score lines to help make crisp bends.
Step 13: Attach the Wings
Now that we have made the wings and wing supports, we have to make the hinges join those pieces together allow the wings to move. In the cardstock/foilboard pattern, the hinge pins are made of a shorts strip of cardstock rolled into a cylinder. You could do this for the metal version, but since I had metal rods of various sizes around, I cut one into chunks and made pins from it. Glue to the pins to the tops of the triangular pieces as shown in the photos. Then, insert the pins into the wing ends and glue the triangular pieces to the ends of the wing supports. The lower wings are pretty straightforward and symmetrical, but the upper wings (canards) have hinges and supports that are not symmetric, and you need to pay attention to this. Study the pictures and picture notes for details.
Step 14: Consruct and Attach the Aerocovers
The final phase of wing construction involves building the aerocovers, which guide the flow of air around the wings. They are glued to the wing supports on the belly side. The pointy parts of the top tips of the aerocovers point towards the belly.
Step 15: Add the Heat Shield (AKA Thermal Protection System or TPS)
Alright, so congrats if you've made it this far! It's been difficult to get this far. Hopefully my instructions didn't leave you confused :). Now, I'll show you how to construct a heat shield for the model. Starship uses hexagonal heat shield tiles so that there are no long continuous straight lines between them for hot gasses to accelerate through upon reentering the atmosphere. I was looking for a way to replicate the look of Starship's heat shield, and decided to try using large black hexagonal glitter. The glitter is very very close to the correct scale, to where I don't think there is a noticeable difference. The application method involves tracing the pieces of the paper pattern onto the sticker paper, then cutting it out. You then peel back the protective layer from the sticky part of the sticker paper, and apply the glitter. A tweezers is very helpful with this part. The hexagons are positioned with the pointy ends pointing up. For glitter flakes that hang over the edges of the sticker paper, you can trim them with a scissors so that they are flush with the edges. The pieces of sticker paper can then be glued to the model. Super glue works well for this and tape can help hold things in place temporarily. For the pieces that wrap around Starship, you may have to make them
slightly longer because they have to go around the surface of Starship which is a larger circumference than the pieces of the paper pattern had to cover. Also, the entire belly of Starship is covered with heat protection tiles and they also wrap around past the middle and onto the belly a little ways, so you will have to try to account for that.
Step 16: Add the Umbilical
Okay, so I tried to add the umbilical to the Starship model. I can't say that I am completely pleased with how it turned out, as it was a bit last second and I was experimenting, but it's basically what I was going for. The umbilical is in the center of the back of Starship, and is basically just a bunch of pipes and/or electrical conduit that runs vertically across some of the sections. It's unclear if later versions of Starship will have an aerocover of some sort over the umbilical to protect it and make it more streamlined, so it may end up looking different eventually. To make my umbilical, I took an old USB cable and cut/ripped it apart to get to the little wires inside, then lined them up and super glued them to the body of the model, as you can see in the picture.
Step 17: Final Thoughts...
Honestly, I really like the look of this model, and while I may not actually finish the heat shield on it because it turned out to be so painstaking and SN20 is just a prototype, I look forward to using the same construction techniques to building the SuperHeavy booster that will help launch Starship into space. I really think that while many 3D printed, wooden, or cardstock/foilboard models look very cool, I really love the look of the actual metal because it has a very different, "real" look to it. Part of me wonders if actual stainless steel could be used if it was very very thin, or the model was scaled up. Anyways, thanks for reading! If you liked this instructable, please consider voting for it in the 2021 Space Contest! I'd be insanely grateful :)