Booster 9 removed from launch site ahead of hot stage ring tests

by Adrian Beil

After the Static Fire of what appears to be 29 Raptor engines below Booster 9, SpaceX rolled back the first stage of the next flight test to the production site. Meanwhile, the hot staging extension is still at the Masseys test site as the company gets ready to test the most significant modification between flights one and two.

The Static Fire was completed on Sunday, following an initial Spin Prime test on Friday. On the SpaceX stream for the event, it was confirmed that the test was planned for five seconds, between the first ignition of a Raptor engine and the complete shutdown. Both the FireX system, as well as the new deluge system, was used for this test. 

FireX is the system that was already in place for the first flight. It is used to push away gas bubbles below the Orbital Launch Mount and was installed after the Booster 7 Spin Prime anomaly to prevent such events in the future.

The deluge system is the new system that was installed to prevent heavy damage to the launch site in future attempts after Booster 7 destroyed most of the concrete below the launch mount at liftoff and also damaged several other parts of the launch infrastructure, including the tank farm and parts of Mechazilla.

After the spin-up of the deluge system, Booster 9 fired 29 of its Raptor engines against the concrete below it. Seemingly, the deluge system worked, as no further damage to the launch infrastructure was observable. However, the Static Fire of Booster 7 also did not destroy the infrastructure, as the fire tests before launch were performed with a shorter duration and less thrust.

From observing the dust cloud, compared to Booster 7´s Static Fire, it was, however, visible that the energy seemingly was better suppressed by the new system, as the forming dust and steam cloud was lower and less energetic. Besides some flying dirt and a damaged fence close to the launch site, nothing seems to have taken damage from this test.

SpaceX, after the test, confirmed that the test was aborted after 2.74 seconds, instead of the planned five, and that four Raptor engines did not correctly ignite. Hence, the test was conducted with 29 instead of 33 Raptors. It is unknown if this comes down to a failure of the individual Raptors or if a joint part between these engines was the reason for the failure.

Booster 9 Static Fire. (Credit: Mary / @BocaChicaGal)

After the test, SpaceX moved quickly as the Booster was removed from the Orbital Launch Mount just hours later. It was then moved down Highway 4 and returned to the Production Site for further work and inspection. Should the potentially malfunctioning Raptors need replacement, SpaceX could also perform this replacement here.

Meanwhile, the Hot Staging ring could also see installation in the Mega Bay once the test article has conducted its structural testing at the Masseys test site.

The test article is on the ” Can Crusher device,” which can apply vertical forces onto the ring, just as it would experience during flight. It is installed between a Ship aft section and a Booster forward section to simulate the whole area. At this point, it is unclear if this test article is also the designated section for Booster 9 or if SpaceX might test the ring to fail to fully explore its structural limits before putting another ring on top of Booster 9.

With the Ship Quick Disconnect modification, the connection point to the Ships is now raised by one ring section or approximately two meters. With this modification, SpaceX is locked into raising the Booster by one ring section for the next flight. This is expected to be the hot staging ring. 

Ship 25 awaiting its flight in the rocket garden. (Credit: Sean Doherty)

Hot staging will allow the Ship’s engines to start while the Booster still fires three of its engines. This will reduce the gravity losses during the staging event to increase the efficiency and capability of Starship, as it will need less propellant to perform the same task.

The upper stage of the next flight, Ship 25, is still parked at the rocket garden near the production site. After a Static Fire of three sea-level and three vacuum Raptors, the Ship was transported back to the production area. This might be related to more work performed on it, or SpaceX just wanted to protect the upper stage during the Static Fire campaign of Booster 9, moving it away from the high-energy event.

In the night from Wednesday to Thursday, the last of the water tanks for the new deluge system also arrived at Boca Chica. These tanks are part of a new tank farm built explicitly for the new system. The tanks are filled with water and nitrogen, which is used to push the deluge system.

Booster 9 entering the Mega Bay. (Credit: Jack Beyer)

With this new system, and both Ship 25 and the deluge being tested now, it remains to be seen if Booster 9 can soon be ready to clear the way to a full-stack, wet-dress-rehearsal and then second flight of Starship and the upcoming weeks and months.

Because the test was only performed for half duration, and with multiple Raptor engines not working correctly, SpaceX will likely repeat the Static Fire of Booster 9 in a few weeks to ensure the stage works properly before the flight test. This becomes especially likely should SpaceX decide to swap out multiple Raptor engines from the flight candidate. 

Render of Starship HLS on the Moon. (Credit: NASA/SpaceX)

NASA’s Jim Free recently voiced schedule concerns regarding the Human Landing System (HLS) lander development that SpaceX is developing based on the Starship infrastructure. The HLS lander will need the development of Starship tankers, a Starship orbital depot, and a designated modified lander Starship, which is planned to bring humans back to the Moon.

Currently, the mission is targeting late 2025, but with both Starship and the Astronaut suits being critical items, it remains to be determined if the mission can go as planned. Free hinted at repurposing the third Artemis mission and moving the potential landing back on the Moon to a later mission.

SpaceX plans to perform a demo mission of their lander in the upcoming years to demonstrate to NASA the performance and reliability of the landing infrastructure.

Work also resumed at the Orbital Launch Mount, and SpaceX has started to install work platforms and scaffolding back to the mount after Booster 9 departed the area. This could be related to inspections or mean that some work is still due at the launch platform before it can fully support a rocket’s second flight. 

Next to the following flight stack, SpaceX is progressing well in test campaigns of vehicles that might be used on the third flight and beyond. Booster 10 and Ship 28, possibly the following flight stack, have been cryo-tested at the Masseys test site. 

The full production yard with the almost complete new Bay. (Credit: Jack Beyer)

Next up is the installation of Raptor engines on both of them to prepare them for their test campaigns at the Orbital Launch Mount for Booster 10 and at the suborbital test pads for Ship 28 for Static Fires.

Ship 29 and 30 are also progressing well in the High Bay, as Ship 29 is already at full height, and 30 will join it very soon. SpaceX has yet to confirm in which order ships might be flown, and in the past, vehicles have been skipped, but SpaceX could support a rapid cadence of flights once the pad can sustain a launch.

Regarding ground infrastructure, SpaceX is progressing well with its major revamp of the production site at Boca Chica. The new Starfactory expansion, which will replace most of the existing tent infrastructure, is already well underway and is slowly getting roof and wall segments. 

The new Mega Bay is almost finished from a structural standpoint, and next up will be the outfitting of the Bay with cladding and needed hardware to prepare it as a future work center for Super Heavy Booster work.

(Lead image: Booster 9 Removed from OLM / Jack Beyer). 

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