With the maiden launch of Starship still fresh in the mind, the follow-up flight is set to be just a few months away — this time with the upgraded Booster 9, and the surprising partnership with Ship 25. While the latter doesn’t sport upgrades already employed on sister ships at the production site, the next test will be focused mostly on first stage flight with the booster.
Ship 25 is now at the launch site and awaiting a six-engine static fire test, with Elon Musk noting the pad modifications should be complete in a month, ahead of another month of testing before the next test flight.
The flight of Booster 7 and Ship 24 came after over a month of pad flow, albeit including numerous rollbacks for additional modifications. The next campaign will be completed in relatively short order — even with a few months of pad modifications required after Booster 7 dug a crater and fired up a “rock tornado” during its launch.
The reduction of the pad flow will be a theme for Starship, with the “rapidly” and fully reusable tag holding the ambition of launching on a daily basis from the same pad in future years.
In the interim, SpaceX is aiming to avoid the flying concrete of the maiden launch by installing a water-cooled steel plate and deluge system under the orbital launch mount (OLM). Preparation for its installation has been ongoing over recent weeks at the launch site, ahead of the steel plates being transported in a timeframe of around a month, per Musk.
That timeline was provided in a Twitter update that amplified SpaceX’s highlights video of the test flight, with Musk adding that once the modifications to the pad are complete, a month of pad testing would follow.
That testing would include tests with the modifications at the pad, Booster 9‘s integration on the OLM, potentially several cryo proofing and static fire tests, and the full-stack integration of the Ship 25.
Ship 25 has already undergone cryo proofing at the Masseys test site and will next conduct a six-engine Static Fire test at the suborbital launch site.
The latter is now confirmed as flying with Booster 9, following Musk’s earlier note that a decision was yet to be made during his last Twitter Spaces.
“We’ve not made a final decision on the Ship. That’s why I was referring to Booster 9, but I was somewhat [sic] I did not mention the ship number,” Musk said a few weeks ago, intimating that the next flight — past the major objectives of Booster 9’s first stage flight — would be focused on re-entry with the ship.
“So, I think we’ll put a ship on that gives us that capability. But we haven’t decided exactly what ship number it should be.”
The focus on ship performance during re-entry appeared to point toward using Ship 28 or Ship 29, both of which have the latest thermal protection system installations and — like Booster 9 onward — electric thrust vector control systems.
Opting for Ship 25 likely points to the obvious focus on achieving additional goals with the first stage element of the test flight.
A successful first stage ascent, without major pad damage, through to staging with ship would be a major step up on the first test flight. SpaceX could then move to the newer Ships for the following flights as the test regime presses through to the goal of operational flights.
SpaceX certainly doesn’t lack vehicles waiting in the wings, with booster sections up to B15 and ship sections up to S34 spotted at the production site. Booster 10 was recently moved to the rocket garden, likely just to make space in the mega bay.
To cater to this production cadence, SpaceX is reconfiguring the production site, removing old buildings, and preparing for the addition of high bay capacity.
A new bay is being assembled near the mega bay, with the recently arrived LR11000 crane set to help after arriving from Roberts Road. The latter is SpaceX’s production site at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which is planned to have its own mega bay, but has yet to begin assembly.
It is likely that SpaceX will focus on production at Starbase before shipping vehicles to KSC, as previously confirmed as the initial flow path by Musk.
The Starbase production site’s layout changes will continue into next year, with old structures such as the windbreak — which was used to work on nosecones and payload sections — demolished on Sunday, making way for new facilities to be built in the area.
The long production tents are also set to be demolished in the future, allowing for the “Starfactory” to be expanded in its footprint. The mid bay is also set to be removed when the high bay capacity is increased over time.
Grab some cool gear along with the ability to support our content: https://shop.nasaspaceflight.com/
(Lead Image: Starship doing somersaults. Credit: Max Evans for NSF/L2)