SpaceX’s Starship program has reached a major milestone ahead of its historic launch with a static fire test of Booster 7, successfully firing 31 of the booster’s 33 engines for the full planned duration.
The test aimed to validate numerous systems, not least the Ground Support Equipment (GSE), which has never previously had to cater to the power of this many Raptor 2 engines firing simultaneously.
Major Starship Milestone
Regardless of the challenges yet to come ahead of the flight, Booster 7 will go down in the test program’s history as a major data gatherer to the benefit of vehicles set to follow in its footsteps.
With a year of launch site testing – including numerous trips back to the Production Site for repairs and upgrades – Booster 7 is now on the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) for what is hoped to be the final time ahead of launch.
Having already passed a key milestone of the full-stack Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR), its current partner – Ship 24 – was rolled back to the Production Site to allow Booster 7 to prepare to fire all 33 of its Raptor 2 engines.
While a couple of Raptor engines were swapped out, work to strengthen the OLM continued in the interim period, with “Stage Zero” set to provide an important set of data points from the Static Fire test.
SpaceX chief designer Elon Musk has previously noted that Stage Zero is more complex than the actual rocket.
Even the concrete base below the OLM will be closely monitored.
Some previous tests of the Ship – involving just the six engines firing – have resulted in flying concrete, which is undesirable during engine ignition for launch.
Interestingly, SpaceX continues to test concrete surfaces at its McGregor facility, gathering data on the interactions between Raptor engines on the test stands and concrete blocks installed in the plume’s path.
It is possible that SpaceX will have a water deluge system installed at the pad for future launch attempts, with an array of pipes and tanks recently being shipped from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
SpaceX has wasted little time since the barge full of hardware arrived at the Port of Brownsville, with the water tanks already placed into position at the Orbital Launch Site.
As is in SpaceX’s nature – which has served the company well over the years – the Static Fire test falling two engines short of all 33 is still major progress toward flight readiness.
Should the test have suffered a more dramatic failure, providing any resulting damage was not significant, SpaceX has Booster 9 ready to roll at the Production Site. This booster also sports the next evolution of upgrades, which will aid confidence in what would likely be an accelerated test flow for this booster.
Ship 25 is also at the launch site, although a potential test earlier this week was scrubbed, returning the focus to Booster 7.
Future vehicles are forming an orderly line at the Production Site, with Ship 26 and Booster 10 in various stages of assembly, not to mention parts of vehicles through Booster 15 and Ship 32.
Some of these vehicles are set to enjoy a barge trip to KSC, ready to serve as pathfinders for the Starship launch site at LC-39A. This will be the interim flow while a dedicated Starship production facility at Roberts Road is completed.
With Starbase cited as a test and development center, the bulk of Starship’s launch cadence will be focused on the East Coast, with 39A serving as the flagship launch site.
Two additional pads could be built at nearby LC-49, which is understood to be making good progress through an inter-agency and public scoping for the proposed Environmental Assessment.
NASA is working on this process that also seeks input from other agencies, organizations, and the public on potentially affected resources, environmental issues, and the agency’s planned approach to analysis.
While SpaceX has shown it can build a fleet of vehicles at a good pace at Starbase, the addition of Roberts Road production will be designed to keep all three launch sites at KSC busy, which is an important part of the overall roadmap.
This week, Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, cited the need for hundreds of uncrewed launches before humans ride on the new rocket system. Elon Musk has previously stated this is required to “shake out” the rocket to a level of safety that will satisfy crewed flights.
Shotwell on Starship and HLS: we need to get orbital pretty quickly. We don't want fly people on the 15th flight. Want it to be the 100th or 200th flight.
— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) February 8, 2023
With Starbase currently expected to have a max launch cadence of around five “Super Heavy” launches a year and 39A also serving Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy within the same pad perimeter, the need for LC-49 to come online in the coming years is potentially a key factor in achieving the milestone to approve crewed missions.
Crewed missions on the books include NASA’s flagship HLS (Human Landing System) missions and commercial flights such as Polaris, “Dear Moon,” and Dennis Tito’s trip with his wife.
For now, getting the vehicle launched as a full-stack vehicle to an orbital velocity is the primary focus, with Booster 7’s Static Fire set to go into the history books as a key milestone on the path to launching the world’s largest and most powerful rocket.
(Lead image: Booster 7 fires 31 Raptor engines. Credit: Nic Ansuini for NSF)
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