SN15 would make so much more sense. It has genuine history behind it as the first (and so far only) Starship to successfully make and survive a high-altitude test flight. That’s exactly the sort of vehicle that, to me at least, would be “most fitting” to display at the Brownsville airport as the “big thing” people see when flying into the city.

More historical for fans than for most everyone else.  Peeps flying in will know Brownsville as the airport for SpaceX in South Texas; they get to see a flap as they drive or taxi in and out, or maybe a Starship if they’re sitting on the appropriate side of the aircraft.  But the status of SN15 will be lost on them.

The same zeal for preservation saw calls for saving and putting away B1058 that flew Demo 2.  First crew, NASA worm, etc. 

SX doesn’t have the sentimental attachment to their old hardware that their fans do.  And if it doesn’t fly anymore, they don’t seem particularly anxious to get others to take their junk off their hands.

I would agree in general that SpaceX isn’t nearly as attached to their hardware as their fans tend to assume they are; but they’re far from devoid of nostalgia when it comes to key development milestones. They have their first Dragon capsule returned from space hanging up in their lobby at Hawthorne, as seen in the backdrop of launch webcasts. They turned the first Falcon 9 booster returned from space into a statue at that same building (in a dense urban area next to an airport, making this bureaucratically non-trivial). And they went to the trouble of preserving Starhopper as a “water tank”/picnic area/weather radar mount even though they probably could have achieved all of those purposes more cheaply/easily using a couple of the off-the-shelf, purpose-built water tanks of similar size that they have installed in numerous places around the Starbase launch site. Hopper has clearly been retained for nostalgia far more than for practical reasons.

I would argue that SN15 is as significant in the design history of Starship as Starhopper is, given that Hopper was a very low-fidelity mockup and served as more of a flying test stand for Raptor than a ship prototype per se. SN15 was the first “real” Starship (very high-fidelity prototype model sharing most critical design aspects with the version that will eventually fly to orbit) to successfully fly and land, and it flew a complex high-altitude trajectory which included the trickiest part of the real thing (“belly flop” + flip-and-burn landing). The SN8-15 test series, of which only 15 survived, can be credibly considered the phase in which the Starship “dream” became tangibly real.

It seems that SpaceX agrees with this assessment of SN15’s historical and nostalgic significance, because they commemorated its landing by handing out plaques to their employees with squares of the metal “skin” removed from one of SN15’s wing flaps. Clearly they considered this to be a pivotal moment in the Starship program.

Displaying SN15 at the Brownsville airport would be a perfect way of recognizing both the vehicle’s own significance and the city’s aspirations as the new center of American rocket development. Huntsville, AL likewise has lots of non-flight, early testing prototypes from the 20th century Space Race in similar positions of display. In many respects, the cities’ roles in their centuries’ space development efforts are quite parallel.

I don’t think the status of such an artifact would be “lost” on passersby through the airport. Passenger airports are magnets for big, clunky statuaries representing local art and architecture (often of far more dubious significance than SN15 would be). :) Usually these are paired with plaques (at relevant viewing areas if the statue itself is not in an accessible area) that explain the piece’s historical and/or artistic significance for anyone curious to learn more about it. I would think that a “primitive”-looking Starship (compared to the orbital designs that will eventually become iconic to the general public) on display at the airport serving the Starship development center would be pretty self-explanatory as being a historically significant early prototype, even to people who don’t bother to read the plaques. The implied message would be clear: “The Cape may be where the flashy missions launch from, but Brownsville is where it all started.” Exactly the sort of thing you want at the gateway to a city.



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