SpaceX’s family of Starship prototypes continues to grow ahead of what promises to be one of the most ambitious test programs in rocket history.
However, with “excitement guaranteed,” per CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, the test flight of Starship SN8 will require fans to set their expectations accordingly – as it launches to 60,000 feet before a bellyflop return and three engine flip and burn for landing.
A successful test on the first attempt would be incredible. However, a failure would also provide priceless data to feed into the following Starships, several of which are already under construction.
SN5 and SN6:
The Hop-Proven duo continue to keep each other company as they watch new Starships undergo stacking in their former Mid Bay home.
While the successful 150-meter hops from these two prototypes were expected to be repeated numerous times, the success of SN5, followed by an improved hop from SN6, appears to have satisfied SpaceX’s requirements to push on to the next phase of testing.
The fate of SN5 and SN6 remains unknown. However, SpaceX did take care to move the duo into the under-construction High Bay this week, providing an element of protection from deteriorating weather conditions in South Texas.
The move into the facility that’ll be used to stack the Super Heavy boosters also provided a unique sense of scale, as SN5 and SN6 were dwarfed by the height of the High Bay walls.
Test Tank SN7.1:
The Test Tank’s demise remains the next milestone in the test program.
Following several cryoloading tests, SN7.1 was placed on the sacrificial altar – in the form of the test mount – for the planned “burst test” that intends to gain structural data on thrust puck, 304L alloy welds, and other items of interest that are being employed on Starship SN8 and beyond – at least for the near term.
However, while the test did include some LN2 loading, the test didn’t complete the expected cycle. As such, a repeat of the test, this time to SN7.1’s demise, was to occur Monday. However, that test did not result in a “pop” – moving the next attempt to Tuesday night.
Starship SN8 continues to undergo processing inside the Mid Bay at the Production Site.
With the stacking operations completed some time ago, installation of the aero covers on the aft of the vehicle has become the focus.
Such work has only started, and will culminate with the installation of the four aero surfaces – the aft fins on the fuselage and the canards on the nose cone. The two sections will likely undergo their stacking operations once both elements have been rolled to the launch site.
The rollout will come soon after SN7.1 has completed testing, allowing for preparations for the test flight that will include prooftesting, at least one Static Fire test with three Raptors, and then the flight to 60,000 feet.
Should SN8’s test flight result in a “crater” – as Elon put it – corrective actions will be employed into SN9, which is already into the business end of its stacking operations.
With processing taking place next to SN8 in the Mid Bay, SN9 will mimic SN8’s design – similar to how SN5 and SN6 closely resembled each other.
On Sunday, SN9’s forward dome rolled out of one of the “Big Tent” production buildings to prepare for stacking in the Mid Bay. Earlier in the week, the landing legs were installed on its aft skirt.
It is yet to be seen if SN9 will complete stacking operations before SN8 is rolled to the launch pad.
SN10 and onwards:
Regardless, SN9 won’t be on her own for long if SN8 departs the Mid Bay, with sections for Starship SN10 now being staged outside the Big Tents in preparation for stacking operations.
As of Sunday, the common dome section for SN10 was spotted outside of one of the Big Tents by Mary (@bocachicagal).
This marks at least three full-scale Starship prototypes that have completed sections already constructed. However, it is almost certain there are bulkheads inside the production buildings for Starships further down the running order.
Parts for SN11 were spotted on one truck delivery earlier this month, including a Downcomer and a Thrust Puck. This was followed by another delivery of a Downcomer, Thrust Puck, and legs, and a third delivery just days ago.
This holds the exciting prospect that SpaceX Boca Chica already has hardware for Starships up to SN13.
While that may appear crazy, this observation does align with Elon’s cited goal of a “high production rate (allowing) for fast iteration” – enabling the freedom for the SpaceX teams to push through numerous test objectives in the knowledge that any failure will not result in a significant impact on the test schedule.
Pretty accurate simulation, although SN8 will use 3 Raptors. If SN8 craters, SN9 & SN10 are close behind. High production rate allows for fast iteration.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 15, 2020
Although Super Heavy hardware – at least steel with “SH” written on labels – remains elusive to Mary’s lenses, the Super Heavy launch mount that will host the dual-Raptor prototype booster is continuing to make progress.
Sheathing of the rebar tubes on the base of the mount is now complete as engineers prepare to move on to the next phase of construction.
A huge LOX tank was also delivered to the launch site during the week, allowing for the tank farm to grow in capacity, as will be required for the next phase of the test program.
It’s highly likely that additional storage tanks will be installed at the launch site over the coming weeks, primarily to cater to the additional Liquid Methane and Liquid Oxygen storage capacity requirements.
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