Providing a backdrop to Elon Musk’s long-awaited Starship update, Booster 4 and Ship 20 have been fully stacked at the Orbital Launch Site. Booster 4 was lifted onto the Mount on Sunday, ahead of the use of the Mechazilla chopsticks to stack Ship 20 on Wednesday night. Musk is set to present the latest updates on the Starship program on Thursday.
Setting The Stage:
After many weeks of being asked on Twitter for a new overview of Starship, Musk finally revealed that he would conduct a presentation this coming Thursday evening.
This will be the first significant overview of the vehicle since 2019, likely to provide insight into the forward path for the immediate and future Boosters and Ships that have been lining up at Starbase.
Musk also confirmed that the overview would be conducted with a fully stacked Booster 4 and Ship 20 as a backdrop. However, compared to last August’s fit-check stack, which saw Booster 4 and Ship 20 stacked for only an hour, the full-stack vehicle will also provide numerous test objectives, not least with the upgraded Launch Tower.
Preparations for receiving the Booster and Ship included additional work on the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM), which now sports its Quick Disconnect (QD), along with the QD on the Ship side further up the tower.
However, the show’s star is the Chopsticks that will stack both Booster and Ship and eventually catch them during their return to the launch site during landings.
Recent testing included the return of the water bags on January 30th – devices are used to simulate the heavy and expensive loads that the chopsticks will need to lift in the future. After the bags were filled with water, the chopsticks were raised and lowered, ensuring they could handle the added weight. The bags were then removed the following day.
This set the stage for Booster to be lifted onto the OLM via the Chopsticks. However, SpaceX opted to use the LR11000 crane for that task. This event was completed on Sunday.
Once secured to the Mount, the Booster QD and Ship QD moved into action, with the former being attached to the aft of Booster 4 while the Ship QD was rotated into place.
The Ship QD doubles as a device that will provide power and propellant to the Ship while also providing stability to the Booster and stack on the Mount.
Given the reach of the LR11000 crane, Ship 20’s stack was conducted by the Chopsticks ahead of Thursday’s presentation.
This task – which could have lasted many hours – was completed in short order and without issue.
— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) February 10, 2022
There was the potential Ship 20 would undergo another cryoproofing test ahead of stacking. However, related road closures have been canceled on a day-by-day basis. Stacking will not require a road closure to be put into effect.
At the production site, work has finally resumed on Ship 22. The vehicle’s completed tank section resides in the Mid Bay and is awaiting the attachment of its aft flaps. Assembly of Ship 22 was paused for an extended period towards the end of last year.
Ship 21, notably, is still sitting outside the Mid Bay, unfinished.
A new smooth nosecone was also spotted inside Tent #3 sporting flap attachment hardware. This points to this nosecone being flight-ready and may be intended for Ship 24.
Booster 7 is still being assembled inside the High Bay. Currently, its methane and liquid oxygen tank sections are complete. All that’s left is to attach the engine section and connect the two tanks.
Sections of Booster 8 have been spotted, with the forward dome placed onto the sleeving stand, flipped the forward section, and then sleeved the forward dome.
During the forward section flip, Mary spotted a change to the connection system to lock the Booster and Ship together. On previous boosters, the interstage had pins that locked into slots on the Ship, but that system is flipped with Booster 8 and onward.
Booster interstages now have three holes with three accompanying locking mechanisms for the three pins that are now attached to the Ship’s engine section.
Additional parts for the Booster include the sump, which will funnel liquid methane from the fuel tank, and the transfer tube, then move the fuel to the engines.
Musk is likely to announce an ambitious launch cadence for Starship once the orbital velocity milestone has been achieved.
To cater for all the future vehicles, the “Wide Bay” has reached a new height, as its fourth level was started on January 29th. Based on height descriptions by Elon Musk, this may be the second to last level of the building.
This new double High Bay will allow for multiple Booster and Ship flows to occur in tandem.
Other items of interest for the presentation will be the status of Raptor 2 testing at SpaceX’s test site in McGregor.
Following concerns from Musk, which were leaked into the media, numerous Raptor 2’s have been spotted on the test stands, including Serial Number 10, via photos from NSF’s Gary Blair (L2 McGregor).
What remains unknown is the status of how their test firings have been proceeding, along with downstream production.
Raptor 2 continues to be manufactured at SpaceX’s HQ in Hawthorne, California – before being test-fired at McGregor. However, a new Raptor 2 factory is currently outfitting at the test site.
One of these new engines may make an appearance at the presentation.
Other questions of interest include the status of the Orbital Launch Site Tank Farm (OTF), such as its readiness to support static fires on the OLM.
Nic has spotted crews using a Klemm KR 702-2R drilling rig, and Mary has spotted a crew from GeoStabilization International at the OTF, which are likely related to preparing the OTF to finally receive Liquid Methane ahead of testing.
Also highly anticipated will be any internal videos that may become part of the presentation. Musk recently tweeted one such CGI video showing the landing sequence for the Booster, likely prepared as part of the presentation materials.
Maybe something like this pic.twitter.com/PUBLdaewt8
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 20, 2022
The video of a 29-engine booster shows that the vehicle will initially fire nine engines for landing before shutting down all but three for the final descent towards the chopsticks. Additional information on the launch and landing profiles would not be a surprise.
As per how Starship will carry and deploy cargo, specifically its payload bay doors, two test articles of the payload bay have been spotted so far. Further details on what this mechanism will eventually look like could be shown.
Musk may also speak more on the plans for East Coast Starship, with interest in the build-up of SpaceX’s Roberts Road facility and future plans to launch from KSC 39A and potentially LC-49.
Such content will also have a significant bearing on the path towards launching Human Landing System (HLS) and other missions from the Cape.
Also, Jared Isaacman, who commanded and funded the Inspiration4 mission last September, may be involved with Starship. He and a few friends flew over Boca Chica on February 5th in two of his fighter jets, even going as far as flying between SN15 and 16.
Pictures and videos were released of the event, some from inside SpaceX property, showing that Isaacman may have some involvement with Starship, and we could see him at the presentation.
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