SpaceX making progress toward next Starship test flights

Repairs following the maiden Starship flight and preparations ahead of the second launch are ongoing at Starbase, all while SpaceX is at an all-time high in terms of Starship vehicle production with a new ship and booster soon to be completed.

The current star of the show is Ship 25, which — following some testing at the Masseys test site — is now at the suborbital launch site ahead of a six-engine Static Fire test.

Flight Termination System Tested and Ship 25 Rolled to Launch Site

One of the major issues identified on Starship’s first flight was related to the efficiency of the flight termination system (FTS). The system is intended to break apart the vehicle tanks during flight should something go wrong. However, during that first flight, this system only punched holes in the tanks but never broke the vehicles apart as planned.

SpaceX intends to re-certify this system before the next flight of Starship. It seems the company has performed a test of it on a booster test tank at the Massey test facility.

B6 following its likely FTS-related test . (Credit: Chris Kleindl (@chrisk_91) for NSF/L2)

The aftermath of the test shows the result that was hoped for from the activation of the FTS, which is a complete destruction of the tank. It is unclear yet if the company will follow up this test with more vehicle destruction tests or whether this piece of data was enough to continue the recertification through computer modeling. 

Ship 25, an identical vehicle to Ship 24, which participated in Starship’s first integrated test flight, resided at Massey up until earlier last week when the SpaceX teams rolled the vehicle out to the launch site.

Before the historic test flight, it was assumed that this ship would be skipped in the flight order, with Federal Aviation Administration documentation indicating SpaceX intended to fly Ship 26 and Ship 27 next instead.

However, Elon Musk indicated soon after the flight that the company desired to test the hypersonic reentry of Starship and confirmed that it hadn’t chosen a ship for the second flight just yet. Ship 26 and Ship 27, vehicles without heat shields and aerodynamic flaps, would break up in the atmosphere during reentry and would not be capable of testing this regime. 

Ship 25’s roll to the launch site was accompanied by a SpaceX tweet stating that the vehicle had been rolled out to the pad to perform a six-engine static fire test at suborbital pad B.

Ship 25 at the launch site. (Credit: Chris Kleindl (@chrisk_91) for NSF/L2)

However, it is unclear if this is in preparation for the ship to be ready for Starship’s second integrated test flight or whether this is to gather more vehicle data before moving on to another ship.

SpaceX Pushes Starship Production to Next Gear, Starts New High Bay.

Inside the High Bay, Ship 29 is making good progress through stacking, with just one section left for it to be fully completed. 

SpaceX production teams have optimized the stacking of ships inside this facility since Ship 28 was being built, and now it is using a new lifting rig that lifts the ships by the lifting points used for the launch tower “chopstick” arms.

These lift points are located right below the forward flaps of the ship and allow teams to not need the use of the crane hooks on the tip of the nosecone.

Ship 28 and Ship 29 in the High Bay. (Credit: Kchris Kleindl (@chrisk_91) for NSF/L2)

This rig was seen used for testing on the prior ship, Ship 28, but teams quickly dismantled it after less than a day of testing. However, it appears that, as a result of that testing, this rig was re-configured to also be hooked up to the two crane hook points that are located on the leeward side of the ship’s nosecone. 

This is likely due to stabilization issues discovered on that testing with Ship 28 — yet another sign that optimization of vehicle production at Starbase is always at a constant flow.

Inside the Mega Bay, Booster 9 awaits for the launch site to be ready for its static fire test campaign. Having been fully stacked two months ago, Booster 10 is likely seeing final work to prepare it for the start of its cryogenic proof test campaign.

Questions remain on whether SpaceX will utilize its new Massey test facility for this new booster or whether the company will wait for the launch site to be ready for it to be tested.

Hidden in the big space inside the Mega Bay is also Booster 11, whose two main tanks are already completed separately and would only need to be stacked together to complete the vehicle. 

As production ramps up, SpaceX is looking at a new location where to build, prepare, and store new ships and boosters via the use of a new High Bay. This new High Bay is located north of the Mega Bay, and it is also similar in size to it. 

Foundations for it have been built over the last couple of months, and SpaceX teams have been fabricating sections for it near the propellant production site. A new crane has also been assembled on site for the build-up of this new facility. 

Watercooled Steel Plate Foundation Progress and Testing at McGregor

Ever since the launch of Starship last month, teams have been quickly preparing the ground under the orbital launch mount (OLM) to tackle another issue found during that first launch. The rocket unexpectedly broke the concrete and soil under the OLM, creating a massive crater as it cleared the pad.

SpaceX’s plan to solve this will entail installing a massive water-cooled steel plate and deluge system under the OLM, which will dump heavy amounts of water to deflect the energy of the 33 Raptor engines of Super Heavy. Accordingly, teams have been building a massive foundation at the site to prepare it for the installation of this system.

To build this foundation, crews have drilled long holes in the ground where rebar cages have been installed, with concrete later being pumped into them to harden the soil under the mount.

This will give the ground enough consistency and serve as an anchor for the several tons of steel that make up the new flame deflector system.

Another piece of progress shown off by SpaceX this week was a tweet by the company showing a test of this system at McGregor where a Raptor engine was shot toward a water-cooled steel plate. In the video, it can be seen how the plate contains a hole from where a few jets of water sprayed out, serving as a coolant for the plate. 

This is another demonstration of visible progress being made to solve the issues found on the first flight of Starship. NSF’s John Galloway (“Das”) explored these events in a recently-published video, backed up by the comments provided by Elon Musk after the test.

In order to push such heavy amounts of water for these steel plates, a set of pressure tanks have been installed and stacked this week behind the pressurized water tanks south of the launch site. 

More large water pipes have also arrived this week at the launch site as SpaceX teams start to dig up and clear the area around the OLM for the installation of this system. At this pace, we could be just a few weeks away from the start of the installation of these plates.

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(Lead Image: Starship doing somersaults. Credit: Max Evans for NSF/L2)

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