SpaceX waiting for FAA to approve launch licence for Starship’s second flight

by Ryan Weber

With the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) having closed the mishap investigation into the anomaly during the first Integrated Flight Test of Starship, SpaceX is waiting for its launch license for the second test flight of the world’s most powerful rocket. However, that FAA process is clearly going to take the test launch into next month at the earliest, backed up by SpaceX deciding to destack Ship 25 on Thursday.

During the investigation, SpaceX came up with corrective actions designed to mitigate and prevent the same issues from occurring, which were then submitted to the FAA for approval. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk then released a list of 63 corrective actions on X; six will be completed on later flights as SpaceX teams develop solutions.

Following the launch of Booster 7 and Ship 24 earlier this year, Booster 9 readies for launch with a multitude of improvements, most of which were already being implemented ahead of the maiden flight.

Corrective actions that SpaceX has taken regarding Raptor involve adding methane sensors to each engine bay – which will work in concert with the new fire suppression capacity/purge system that was installed on Ship 25 and Booster 9.

Along with the new purge system, SpaceX has added more ways to detect and manage Methane leaks from Raptor to avoid further fires. This is what caused the loss of the booster during Starship’s first flight test, according to an update on SpaceX’s website.

When it comes to the booster, a vast amount of upgrades have been implemented on Booster 9. However, more details are coming to light via the FAA process. SpaceX has replaced several seals within valves, manifolds, and flanges to reduce the leaking of propellant.

SpaceX has added over 90 cameras on the booster to monitor any possible leaks that may occur in flight or during ground testing.

Additional cameras on the tower – via Jack Beyer for NSF

SpaceX has also upgraded the flight safety system, otherwise known as the flight termination system, to ensure each component works and to ensure the destruction of the vehicle in use.

Additionally, SpaceX has added insulation to the avionics harnesses on the booster and ship and improved the routing of the wire harnesses that go to the flight computer.

SpaceX has yet to do any testing on Ship 25 and Booster 9 since they were stacked; however, the path to flight likely includes at least a cryo on the ship to test the ship quick disconnect after removing it for modifications. Currently, there are no indications that SpaceX plans on completing a wet dress rehearsal ahead of the second flight, but plans in Starbase are fluid and may change as SpaceX gets closer to launch.

One of the possible reasons SpaceX has yet to do any cryo testing on the full stack is that it decided to fully install the third tank on the water deluge system. Closing the pad down for testing would slow down the installation; it is possible SpaceX chose to postpone any cryo testing until the deluge upgrades were completed.

The deluge system itself is another upgrade to the pad systems. While it was part of the Starbase plan ahead of the maiden launch, its installation ahead of Booster 9’s flight will provide mitigation to the “rock tornado” that was observed during lift-off.

With Musk citing the vehicle is ready to launch and only holding back on setting a launch date while the FAA completes its license approval, the live views from the launch site back this up.

The work platform was lowered from under the orbital launch mount and taken back to the shipyard; this likely means that the work being done on the engines is complete and ready for additional testing or flight. Once removed, some testing was completed, such as igniter tests and a test of the FireX system.

However, following reports that the FAA isn’t going to approve the launch until at least October, Ship 25 was then destacked on Thursday morning.

There are no road closures, so Ship 25 may remain next to the booster, to be stacked again closer to an approved launch date target. SpaceX, as has been usual during Starbase operations, has provided little information on pre-launch flows, only sending out a group photo of the workforce.

Ship 26 vs Ship 28

Ship 26 was rolled to Sub Orbital Pad B on Sept. 7 for what appears to be static fire testing. This could mean that Ship 26 and Booster 10 are the next stack to fly for flight three. However, Ship 28 could be paired with Booster 10. Whether Ship 26 or Ship 28 flies with Booster 10 could depend on how flight two does in terms of milestones.

If the next flight gets past stage separation and the ship makes it to orbit, then it is likely Ship 28 will fly with Booster 10 because SpaceX will want to start testing more ships in space.

However, if for some reason, the next flight doesn’t make it to stage separation and Ship 25 doesn’t ignite its engines, then Ship 26 may fly with Booster 10 to not use the new ships when SpaceX is still collecting booster flight data.

Booster 10

The new booster thrust ram simulator was rolled to the shipyard on Sept. 8 and was stored in the ringyard. Then, on Sept 10, the thrust ram stand was rolled into the Mega Bay, and Booster 10 was lifted onto the stand and rolled out to Masseys. Booster 10 had already been cryo tested on July 18 at Masseys. 

However, it appears SpaceX will test the thrust puck on Booster 10. While Booster 10 rolled out, it was observed that the small chines and the small CO2 tanks had already been removed and the new mounts for the new larger chines installed, as well as some of the new vents for the engine section.

SpaceX did not conduct a thrust ram test on Booster 9. However, that was more of an issue of not having an operational thrust ram stand rather than SpaceX not wanting to test the thrust puck.

Future vehicles 

Ship 28 has been on the engine installation stand since Aug. 5 and has gotten all six of its Raptors and a couple of modifications. A new change that no other ship has had is the addition of cowbells to the nose cone vents. Ship 28 has also been getting the new engine shielding that Ship 25 currently has.

As stated above it is still being determined if Ship 28 will fly on flight three with Booster 10 or if that will be Ship 26. If not then Ship 28 should fly with Booster 11.

Future vehicles at the Production Site. With Ship 28 in the rocket garden – via Sean Doherty for NSF

Next in the line of ships is Ship 29, which finished stacking on June 6. Since then, it has gotten its two aft flaps and the heat shield is currently being completed. This ship should be the next one to go to Masseys once it’s completed, so watch out for the ship thrust ram stand that was used on Ship 28 to come to the shipyard and bring Ship 29 to Masseys. 

Ship 30 finished stacking on Aug. 17 and is currently having its heat shield worked on. One of Ship 30’s aft flaps is currently over by Tent Four – the onsite bakery for heat shield tiles – and is waiting to be tiled. 

Ship 31 has also recently started stacking, which makes three ships in the high bay at one time. Currently, Ship 31 is around halfway stacked. Lastly, for the ships, Ship 32 has sections sitting out in the ringyard.

Booster 11, which still needs a cryo test, had been sitting in the rocket garden since June 24, but in the early morning of Sept. 12, SpaceX rolled B11 into the Mega Bay.

After sitting in two halves for over two months, SpaceX finally finished the stacking of Booster 12 in the Mega Bay on Aug. 18. This booster has all of its grid fins currently installed and is getting its raceway and other items completed.

On Sept. 5, SpaceX started stacking Booster 13’s liquid oxygen tank inside of Mega Bay. This booster appears to have a couple of decent upgrades over earlier boosters, such as the addition of a fourth vent on the common dome section.

(Lead image: Aerial view of the launch site with a full stack on the pad. Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF.

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