Following aborted WDRs Flight 3 enters additional preparations

by Ryan Weber

After two Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) aborts, SpaceX opted to destack Ship 28 before removing Booster 10 from the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM). The Booster has since rolled back to the Production Site, while Ship 28 conducted  standalone testing on Pad B, opening with a Spin Prime test on Monday.

A March launch of Flight 3 for Starship is still possible, pending the completion of full stack testing and approval from the FAA.

Flight 3

SpaceX attempted a full WDR on Feb. 14, loading liquid oxygen into Ship 28 before holding and detanking shortly into the process. Another attempt was made on Feb. 16, which included a small amount of propellant loading on the Booster, before once again detanking. 

While the full WDR remains outstanding in the flow towards the upcoming launch, a few interesting observations were made during the attempts, with the most significant change is the Ship begins loading first rather than Booster.

It is unclear why the two WDRs were aborted, but the fact that Booster 10 was rolled back to the Mega Bay and placed on a work stand could mean that it is a vehicle issue and not a tank farm issue.

After destacking Ship 28 and Booster 10 teams rolled in more vaporizers and tanks, then began installing the tanks in the location of the already removed water tanks. These are likely to replace the capability that SpaceX lost when teams removed said water tanks. The remaining tank plus the new tanks are part of the Orbital Tank Farm (OTF) pressurization system.

This pressurization system uses water and a set of heat exchangers in the Fluids Bunker to heat LOX, LCH4, or Liquid Nitrogen (LN2). After being heated to a gas, the cryo storage tanks are then pressurized while the vehicle is being loaded. And when the vehicle is being detanked the LOX and LN2 gas is just vented off, and the LCH4 gas is recondensed back into liquid.

Booster 10 Rolling back to Mega Bay 1 (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

Regarding Ship 28, SpaceX has placed it on Suborbital Pad B, for more testing. Shortly after placing Ship 28 on Pad B, teams began to do work inside the methane tank while still hooked up to the crane. 

While it’s unclear if Ship 28 has new engines or reinstalled engines, teams want to test the connections with at least a spin prime test and possibly a static fire.

Road closures for such testing are scheduled for Feb. 26, 27, and 28, from 8 am – 8 pm CST.  With the opening window taken to conduct a Spin Prime test.

Ship 28 on Pad B (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

Launch Pad Two

Even with the preparations for Flight 3 stealing much of the attention, the Army Corps of Engineers released a request from SpaceX to convert a small sliver of wetlands near Suborbital Pad B for the purpose of building a second orbital launch pad.

In the Public notice, it is stated that: “SpaceX reinitiated the permit application on 12 February 2024 with modified project plans requesting to fill a 0.16-acre wetland to construct a second orbital launchpad which will replace the current suborbital launch pad and test stand.”

This confirms that the second launch tower will be in the area near the suborbital site. Placing it there helps SpaceX minimize the environmental impact and will help get this pad constructed faster, as a lot of groundwork is already completed at the suborbital site.

Currently, there is a public comment period open until March 25, after which the Army Corps of Engineers will evaluate the proposal and decide whether or not a Public Hearing is required.

Render of Possible Second Pad Location with New Land (Credit: Jay Deshetler for NSF) Original Photo (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

There are no publicly released plans on where exactly the tower will be, or the tank farm will be, assuming SpaceX doesn’t just tie it into the current farm to expedite using another pad. A good indication that construction is starting soon is that SpaceX has already destroyed the nice new parking lot near Suborbital Pad B. This could be where the new tower will be built.

SpaceX has also applied to buy more land next to the Suborbital Site which may be used to house parts of the second pad.

Before this news came out, SpaceX finished transporting the four tower sections from Roberts Road, which arrived at the Port of Brownsville. SpaceX may be waiting for the final two sections to arrive before rolling them to the Sanchez site. 

Starbase Tower 2 Sections Saying Stack Me (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

Once all of the upgrades and or repairs are completed, which could take a few weeks, SpaceX will try again for another WDR. Assuming that WDR goes well and SpaceX is ready hardware-wise, Booster 10 and Ship 28 could launch in mid to late March.

Feature Image: Ship 28 being destacked off of Booster 10 Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF.

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