OLM mods as vehicles shuffle in preparation for upcoming test flights

Starbase continues to find itself in the midst of preparing for the next test flight of Starship, following the events of Booster 7 and Ship 24’s rise into the South Texas sky.

Modifications to the launch site are the main watch item, as it readies for the installation of steel plates and a water deluge system that is aimed to mitigate the damage sustained during the maiden launch.
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Work around the orbital launch site has been ongoing for weeks after Booster 7 dug a crater and sent concrete flying during its launch.

While changes to the next launch include launching in just 2.5 to three seconds of ignition — as opposed to the six seconds seen during the maiden launch — a water-cooled steel plate system will be installed to protect the base of the pad.

Progress toward that goal was observed when the crane that was being used to install the over 30.5 meters (100-foot) long rebar cages for the foundation was dismantled.

Aerial photo of the Starbase orbital launch site taken May 26. (Credit: Nic Ansuini for NSF/L2)

There has also been excavation work and installation of sheet piles all around the ground underneath the orbital launch mount (OLM). These sheet piles protect the area from caving in while excavation work is progressing, adding strength and support while rebar is installed where the upcoming water pipes will be laid.

It is estimated that preparations for the installation of the new deluge system are about halfway done. Elon Musk was quoted last week saying that the upgrades “should be complete in about a month.”

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Preparations for an additional tank installation near the existing water deluge tanks are also ongoing. Although the purpose of the tank is not completely known, that tank has arrived at Brownsville.

The existing vertical ground support equipment tanks, visibly damaged during the first Starship test flight in April, are being buffered out, with the dents pulled by a crane and chains.

Ship 25, known to be next in line to fly after Ship 24’s launch and demise, is at suborbital pad B being prepared for its upcoming static fire testing. A clue as to when this test will take place ranges from road closures authorized by Cameron County to overpressure notices provided to Boca Chica residents.

Finally, at suborbital pad A, teams are pulling out the umbilical connections and other pipes. It is not currently known why this is being done, but it is likely SpaceX is preparing the pad for further testing activity.

While the wait continues for Booster 9 to make its way to the modified launch site, Booster 10 was moved to the rocket garden. Unlike most moves to this area of Starbase, Booster 10 has not been retired. The move may be related to allowing Massey’s test site to be prepared for cryogenic testing of boosters after Ship 25 was tested there recently.

Space is at a premium at the production site, with numerous ships and boosters lined up in various states of assembly. However, storage and processing capacity is set to be increased, first with the construction of the new mega bay.

Pre-fabricated pieces of this new bay have been moved into place. In addition, the LR11000, frequently seen on NSF’s flyover videos at the SpaceX Roberts Road facility in Florida, is now at Starbase to support building this new processing bay for Starship.

A potential new parking space or rocket garden extension has also been seen next to the new bay under construction. Also, a new turntable, used to rotate Starship barrels and vehicles during welding, has arrived at Starbase.

As a result of a high production cadence, a large number of vehicles and sections have been built. Vehicles that otherwise could be ready for testing have to be stored as the existing testing facilities are not ready to receive them.

An example of this is Ship 26, which has its engines but has been waiting at the Remedios Avenue engine stand. It is likely that SpaceX wants to finish testing Ship 25 and work on the OLM before Ship 26 is rolled out for its testing activities.

Another activity that will increase Starship’s production cadence is the planned expansion of the starfactory building. As part of this extension, the ground fabrication building has already gone away.

The windbreak (low bay) has been demolished. It was dismantled this week to make room for the starfactory extension.

The windbreak was built to protect welding work on Starhopper and Starship Mk1 from the wind, back when Starbase was starting to be built up.

After the mid and high bays were built, the windbreak was mainly used to work on nosecones and payload bay sections.

Further insights may come soon, with Elon Musk promising a new Twitter Spaces update that is due in the coming days if the previously noted timeline holds.

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(Lead Image: The OLM at Starbase. Credit: Nic Ansuini for NSF/L2)

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