Preparations for the third flight of Starship are making solid progress after both vehicles completed their respective solo test campaigns. Booster 10 rolled back to the Shipyard for final mods and checkouts before its flight, and Ship 28 wasn’t far behind. Both vehicles are now in their Bays for final work before rolling back to the launch site for integrated stack testing and launch.
Booster 10 recently rolled back to the Booster Bay (Mega Bay 1) on Jan. 2, 2024. SpaceX rolled it back in order to complete final preps and mods ahead of its flight.
These final checks can range anywhere from simple avionics and valve ops checks or final add-ons to the booster to even new mods via lessons learned from Booster 9’s flight back on Nov. 18, 2023
Booster 10 had attempted a static fire on Dec. 21, 2023. However, SpaceX ran into an issue and had to use the emergency dump procedure, slowly dumping the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) overboard using the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) vent.
Just before the end of last year, on Dec. 29, 2023, Booster 10 completed a 33-engine static fire. Now SpaceX went straight for a static fire without a spin prime, unlike Booster 9. It is possible that SpaceX has gotten to the point where they trust the engines and the installation to cease conducting spin prime tests.
This could have to do with the new engine install stands, which makes installing engines and shielding far easier, safer, and more precise than before.
Static fire of Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines ahead of Flight 3 pic.twitter.com/rJqNToMCnU
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 29, 2023
Another big plus from the 33-engine static was how quickly SpaceX loaded the booster with propellant and detanked. Booster 10 had its LOX tank fully filled in about 40 minutes, and then it was detailed and safed only around 90 minutes after the static fire. This showcases the new pumps and subcoolers that were hooked up shortly after Flight 2.
Only two LOX subcoolers and one Methane (CH4) subcooler were not used during the test. For a full stack, SpaceX could now reduce the propellant load time from 97 minutes to around 50 minutes, which is only five minutes more than Falcon Heavy. And that is with around 5,000 metric tons of propellant for a Starship full stack.
Ship 28 has also completed its engine testing. It static fired twice, once on Dec. 20, 2023, which was a full six engine test, and the second, which was a single-engine static on Dec. 29, 2023. The second static was the same day as Booster 10’s 33 engine static, marking the second time SpaceX has static-fired both vehicles on the same day. The other time was back on Aug. 9, 2022, when Booster 7 and Ship 24 were both static fired.
According to SpaceX, both static fires went well, and it was pointed out that the second static was a flight-like startup. This could mean a few things. First off, SpaceX may intend to send Ship 28 into orbit, and this was to simulate a deorbit burn.
Secondly, it could mean they intend to use the same trajectory but do a burn in the coast phase and bring it down over the Indian Ocean. A Federal Communication Commission (FCC) license was recently issued for a possible starship landing in the Indian Ocean. Lastly, it could be that SpaceX just wanted to do an extra test on Ship 28, which has no bearing on what the vehicle will do in flight.
Ship 28 returned to the Shipyard just like Booster 10, which is expected and not a sign of an issue with the vehicle. Ship 28 has several things that still need to be closed out before the flight. The crane hooks were taken off before rollback and then tiled over, as well as repairs to the aft starboard flap’s heat shield. The lockouts for the door and the stiffener rings for the Raptor Vacuum engines also have to come off.
Lastly, the SpaceX logo and Ship 28 decals still haven’t been installed yet, and these are just some of the close-out items needed for Ship 28.
Currently, there has been no word from either SpaceX or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the progress of the Mishap investigation into the Flight 2 anomalies. It is possible either may say something in the next few weeks with the holidays over. It is likely this process will be much faster than last time because an environmental review isn’t required, just a safety review and mishap investigation.
Ship 29 became the first vehicle to grace the Ship Bay (New High Bay) with its presence. There is currently one work stand installed in the front left corner of the Ship Bay. Ship 29 was recently lifted onto that work stand for engine installation, and if SpaceX is fast enough, or if there is a delay in the launch of Flight 3, Ship 29 could rollout for static soon.
Since Ship 29 will receive its engines using the new indoor work stand, SpaceX may be willing to skip a spin prime on this vehicle, like what was done with Booster 10.
Booster 11 has been on the back right work stand in the Booster Bay since Nov. 19, 2023, with glimpses of engine shielding being installed through one of the holes in the work stand. Booster 11 has its larger chines and may already have engines installed.
If Flight 3 isn’t the one to go to orbit but get to reentry, SpaceX might roll the dice and try to get Ship 29 into orbit.
Just before the year ended, SpaceX rolled out Ship 30 and Booster 12 to Masseys for cryo-proof testing and structural load testing using the thrust ram test stands. Ship 30 completed a full cryo-proof on Jan 3, 2024. Based on past ships and boosters, this pair could be ready for flight between May and July.
Recently, there has been some activity with Flight 6 and 7 vehicles. Ship 31 was rolled back into the high bay, for work to resume on finishing the initial assembly. However, Booster 13 still only has its LOX tank assembled, while most of the Methane tank sits in the Ring Yard.
Ship 32 was finally lifted off of the turntable and moved to the back right corner of the High Bay to complete assembly, and Booster 14 still hasn’t been started, with pieces of the LOX tank in the Ring Yard. It’s currently unknown whether or not those pairs fly or if the new revision of Starship will be ready for testing by then.
The Shipyard LR11000 crane that has been building the new Ship Bay has been laid down and being dismantled. This is a great indication the most of the major work on the new bay is complete. Up next for the Ship Yard could be Tent 3 coming down in a month or two to allow for the final piece of Starfactory to be constructed.
Sooner or later, the FAA will modify the existing Launch License to include any Starship flight, whether it’s this year or next, depending on how well these next few flights perform.
Flight 3 could launch as early as the end of January or the beginning of February, although most indications point to at least mid-February. It depends on SpaceX to complete the investigation and implement corrective actions. As well as having the vehicles and launch pad flight-ready.
(Lead image: Ship 28 returns for pre-launch work. Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)