SpaceX Pushes Ahead to Flight 3 with the Rollout of Ship 28

by Ryan Weber

After an exciting and milestone-achieving Flight Test Two, SpaceX is ready to move into Flight Three, with the opening of preflight testing via the rollout of Ship 28 to Suborbital Pad B. This will be the start of what is hoped to be a condensed testing campaign for Ship 28 and Booster 10 ahead of a flight early in 2024.

Ship 28 & Booster 10

Ship 28 was rolled to Suborbital Pad B on Dec. 14, 2023, to complete engine testing ahead of a third test flight of the Starship stack. Ship 28 has already completed two cryo proof tests at Masseys before spending 2.5 months on the Ship stand at the Sanchez site receiving its engines and upgrades.

This Ship is expected to have a condensed testing schedule, with possibly a cryo proof, then a six-engine spin prime, and six-engine static fire before being ready for stacking.

S28 on Engine Install Stand (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

Booster 10, the other half of the Flight Three stack, has received its Hot Stage Ring and was placed on the new booster transport stand that SpaceX has been building for the past several months.

Booster 10 was then rolled to the Rocket Garden to be staged for rollout to the launch site. Even though the views are limited with the new transport stands, Booster 10 appears to have all of its engines and shielding.

These new stands are like a mini OLM (Orbital Launch Mount) where 20 arms and clams can be released simultaneously without manual interaction. The new stands will also make moving and getting boosters ready for stacking onto the OLM much easier.

Left to Right: S20, S31, S26, B4, and B10 with its HSR (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

As with ship, Booster 10’s testing is expected to be condensed, possibly only including a cryo proof, a 33 engine spin prime, and then a 33 engine static fire before being ready for flight.

SpaceX is likely aiming for a preflight test campaign that is as short as possible, per future aspirations related to key missions such as NASA HLS (Human Landing System) campaigns.

However, there is a chance SpaceX will conduct extra cryo proof testing with Booster 10, and even with a full stack, because of the upgrades they have completed to the Orbital Tank Farm.

OLP Upgrades

After the second flight test, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the pad looked great and needed minimal refurbishment.

NSF’s flyover after launch supported that statement since it showed an intact pad with what appeared to be minimal damage, indicating that the new flame deflector plate did its job.

Jack Beyer flyover photo of the launch site

About a week after launch and just after their Thanksgiving break, SpaceX got to work on inspections and pad refurbishment. During this, they removed and then reinstalled all the hold-down clamps for either inspection or replacement.

The back middle piece of the Booster Quick Disconnect was also removed along with some of the main cryogenic propellant hoses. SpaceX has also rolled the LR11000 crane over to the Orbital Launch Pad to hook up to the Ship Quick Disconnect while crews repair the damage done during Flight Two.

With SpaceX doing all of this work, it shows they still have a lot of work to do to make this pad more robust and have the capability to rapidly turn it around for another launch.

Besides refurbishing the Orbital Launch Pad, the Orbital Tank Farm is getting decent upgrades. Before the second test flight, SpaceX had installed but not hooked up four more subcoolers and two more pumps on the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) side, two more subcoolers, and one more pump on the Methane side.

These, along with mounts for nine more horizontal tanks, five of which have arrived so far, will allow SpaceX to add much more capacity and loading capability to the Orbital Launch Pad.

With these upgrades, SpaceX should lower the time needed to load propellant into the full stack from 90 minutes to 45 minutes, give or take. SpaceX has begun testing and purging the new pumps and subcoolers that have been hooked up, indicating that the primary upgrades for the Orbital Tank Farm are nearly complete.

Upcoming Vehicles

Looking ahead, Flight Four should be Ship 29 and Booster 11. Ship 29 is currently in the High Bay getting preflight work done and mods while it waits to either be put on the engine, install stand at Sanchez, or be the first vehicle to use the new High Bay. Booster 11 has been on the booster work stand for nearly a month now while it gets its engines and other preflight work.

Flight Five should be Ship 30 and Booster 12, but SpaceX is known to change things. Ship 30 is in High Bay finishing up, while Booster 12 was moved to the left work stand in Mega Bay One and should be getting ready for cryo-proof testing.

These vehicles are waiting to be lifted onto their respective thrust ram stands and transported to Masseys for cryo proof testing.

Left to Right Ships 32, 30 ,29, and 28(Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Flight Six could be Ship 31 and Booster 13, which are currently on hold for work. Ship 31 moved to the Rocket Garden and has been waiting for a spot in the High Bay to reopen. Booster 13 is still waiting for its new thrust section after the first was scrapped for unknown reasons.

Ship 32 has been fully stacked and just sitting on the turntable in High Bay, while Ship 28 gets all the attention waiting ahead of Flight Three. And what could be Ship 32’s other half, Booster 14 has parts spotted in the Ringyard.

Starship Version 2

Elon Musk recently posted a picture of the High Bay and ships 28, 29, 30, and 32 on X. In this post, he indicated that these were the last of the Version 1 of Starship. It’s important to note that Ship 31 is in the Rocket Garden at this time and is included as a Version 1 ship.

Later on, he added that Version 2 would have better reliability, more fuel capacity, and reduce the dry mass. So far, there have been no confirmed sightings of Version 2 hardware, but SpaceX has already scrapped parts of S33.

Production Site

At the production site, the new High Bay is nearly complete. Based on pictures and seeing other fixtures being built, this new bay should be for ship construction.

Front shot of New High Bay (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Once this bay is complete and Starfactory is up and running, SpaceX’s production of ships and boosters will skyrocket. The layout should be the same as Mega Bay One, or the Booster Bay, with three work stands in the back and one turntable in each front corner.

Lead Image: Snowman rollout for Ship 28 via Sean Doherty for NSF/

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