SpaceX gearing up for a possible WDR as it waits for regulatory approval

by Ryan Weber

While Ship 26 started its engine testing campaign, SpaceX looks to be gearing up for a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) for Booster 9 and Ship 25. Related notices have been posted for the coming week, as SpaceX returned to a full stack for the next Starship to launch – as soon as November, pending regulatory approval. The WDR was expected Wednesday, before SpaceX unexpectedly destacked Ship 25 – for what is believed to be a short period – on Tuesday.

Full stack

Within the last few weeks, SpaceX has stacked and destacked Ship 25 off Booster 9. The restack and subsequent cleaning of the Orbital Launch Pad appeared to be focused on a photo op involving a Cybertruck towing a Raptor Vacuum engine around Starbase.

SpaceX then destacked and removed the Hot Stage Ring to do more work on top of Booster 9’s forward dome.

Cybertruck towing RVac around OLM (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

A Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) was issued on Oct. 13 for Oct. 17. These have been used in the past for booster static fires and for the one Wet Dress Rehearsal that SpaceX has completed.  However, MSIBs haven’t been issued for any of Booster 9’s static fires. This points to SpaceX possibly doing a WDR as early as Oct. 17.

A WDR is when a vehicle is run through its full countdown by fully loading it with propellants, which in this case would be Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Methane. During the countdown, SpaceX would ensure all systems work correctly right up to enigne ignition, then detank.

SpaceX has testing road closures scheduled for Oct. 16, 17, 18,  and 19, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time. If SpaceX is going to do a WDR, there will be an evacuation notice for Boca Chica Village, as it is inside the danger zone.

The vehicle has, however, returned to its full stack configuration as a key milestone on the path to the WDR, before what is believed to be a short destack on Tuesday for unknown reasons. SpaceX remains in a stance of expecting the WDR as the next milestone.

Ship 26 Testing

After lots of internal work with the LR11000 attached, SpaceX is ready to test Ship 26. On Sept. 9, Ship 26 was loaded with propellant and then appeared to abort for what was believed to be a preburner test.

As of right now, Ship 26 is not expected to fly, but as always, plans can change.
SpaceX could use one of the road closures this upcoming week to test Ship 26 again.

Future Vehicles

After completing three cryogenic proof tests on the thrust ram simulator at Masseys, Booster 10 was rolled back to the production site. Booster 10 was lifted onto the new work stand in Mega Bay 1. Here, Booster 10 will get its set of Raptor engines and have its engine purge system modifications completed before static fire testing.

Booster 10 Cryo Proof Test (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Booster 11 has been getting its modifications done in Mega Bay 1, these modifications include the larger purge tanks and the new engine section vents that Booster 9 and Booster 10 have. These are a part of the upgraded fire suppression system that SpaceX devised after the issues encountered in the first flight. Booster 11 was then transported to Masseys on the booster thrust puck simulator to get cryogenic proof tested.

Booster 13’s Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank has been stacked and is only missing the thrust section before the stacking of the Methane tank begins.
Ship 28 is still getting modifications and being outfitted for a static fire while sitting on the engine install stand. SpaceX appears to be trying to finish all the internal work required for a static fire before they roll Ship 28 to the pad.

A lot of work has been done on Ship 28’s heat shield, pointing to SpaceX wanting to get this vehicle to survive reentry if it gets there in its flight test.

Ship 29 was rolled out to Masseys and has completed three cryogenic proof tests with the ship thrust ram stand. SpaceX does this to simulate the forces or Raptors firing while the vehicle is experiencing cryogenic temperatures. Ship 29 was then rolled back to the Rocket Garden where it was placed onto a transport stand.

S29 Cryo Proof Test (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Ship 30 has gotten both of its aft flaps and continues to be fitted out for cryo testing. Ship 31 has completed stacking operations and will now have its internals completed ahead of cryo operations. And SpaceX keeps building with Ship 32’s nose cone being stacked on to its payload bay.

SpaceX keeps getting increasingly more efficient with stacking ships; Ship 31 was stacked in just 33 days and only 47 days after Ship 30 had been completed.

Test Articles at Masseys

SpaceX has been busy at Masseys of late with the arrival of three new test articles and a burst test. The burst test was on S26.1, a combination of a booster forward section and a ship aft section. It is unclear as to why this test tank was built and what its purpose was.

Test article S24.2 is a payload bay similar to what is on Ship 28 and the ships after that. This test article is so SpaceX can test the payload bay design before it is flown. The payload bays on Ship 24 and Ship 25 were welded shut, possibly because SpaceX thought they wouldn’t hold together with a working door.

S24.2 and S27 Aft at Masseys (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

The elliptical dome test tank (Edome) will test the simpler, flatter dome design. These domes are already in use for the booster common domes. The Edome test tank was moved to the burst pad after SpaceX cleaned up S26.1. It is still being determined why they made another Edome test tank since they had tested one to destruction twice over a year ago. 

Ship 27 was scrapped a few months ago, but SpaceX saved its aft section and turned it into a new test article. Ship 27’s aft was modified with the latest and more robust engine shielding installed on Ship 25. Ship 27’s aft has been put into the nose cone jail so that SpaceX can use the hydraulic actuators to push up on the shielding. The actuators will simulate the forces on the shielding during hot staging.

With a WDR coming up and maybe some testing for Ship 26 the second fullstack launch of Starship feels closer and closer.

Lead Image: B9/S25 Fullstack During Sunrise. Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF

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