Ship 30 set to Static Fire next week as Flight 4 Preparations Continue

by Ryan Weber

SpaceX has rolled out Ship 30 to complete its engine testing campaign and has completed Booster 13’s cryogenic proof testing. Meanwhile, upgrades and preparations continue ahead of Flight 4, which could happen by the end of May.

Ship 30 Engine Testing

Ship 30, which is slated to fly on Flight 5 with Booster 12, has been rolled out to Suborbital Pad B to begin its engine test campaign. For this testing, it is expected that Ship 30 will perform the same tests as Ship 29: a Spin Prime, six-engine Static fire, and a single-engine static fire. There are road closures for this testing that are from 8am to 8pm CDT on May 7, 8, and 9.

Notably, Ship 30 rolled out with engine covers, the first for a ship. The first Booster to do that was Booster 10, which skipped a Spin Prime. Now, with the combination of using the new enclosed engine install stand and having engine covers, SpaceX may start skipping spin primes on ships.

Ship 30 on Pad B with New Roll Thrusters (Credit: Mary/BocaChicaGal for NSF)

With Ship 30 on the pad, a few changes have been noticed. First, two new roll thrusters have been added just above the forward dome. These are next to the new radio antenna, which is an upgrade over Ship 29 and replaces the six tile-like antennas that used to be on the nosecone.

Another interesting addition is a new Liquid Oxygen (LOX) vent at the top of the LOX tank. This vent looks to have a sensor with some sense lines going into the tank and maybe a new pressure relief valve.

Masseys and Booster 13

Booster 13 was rolled out to Masseys for cryo-proofing after being fully stacked on Feb. 2nd, 2024.

During the rollout, SpaceX showed off the new booster cap for boosters without a Hot Stage Ring. This cap will help keep out water and contaminants while the vehicle is outside the Bay. Along with the cap, Booster 13 also had grid fin covers, as it has not received its grid fins yet.

Some interesting things to note about Booster 13 are that it has two new LOX vents, one on each side; these appear to be the same type that has appeared on Ship. Booster 13 also already has the new large baffles installed on the engine section, just like Booster 10 had. 

Once at Masseys, Booster 13 completed two cryo-proof tests: one full Methane tank and one full LOX tank. These are the same tests that Booster 11 and Booster 12 got at Masseys and seem to be the plan for boosters going forward. Once these were completed, Booster 13 was rolled back to Mega Bay 1 and placed on the center work stand.

Ship QD for the new Static Fire Stand at Masseys (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

SpaceX continues working hard to prepare the new Ship static fire stand. All of the pieces of the flame bucket have been lifted into the trench for installation. Venting has been occurring from the new Methane tank farm, so SpaceX may be pretty close to getting this new test stand operational.

With all these milestones, Ship 30 could be the final ship to static fire on Pad B, which would end an era. But it would also be the beginning of SpaceX simplifying testing to one area away from where there will be two Orbital Launch Pads.

Orbital Launch Pad 2

SpaceX has gone full steam ahead with groundwork for the second Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, starting with installing piling and rebar cages. These will help support and secure the many structures teams will build over the next 18 to 24 months.

SpaceX has filled in the land just in front of the Gateway to Mars sign to improve access to this site for heavy machinery and a staging area.

New Access Road for Pad 2 and Drilling in the Background (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

A portion of the wall that that sign is on has also been destroyed to allow access so that heavy machinery doesn’t have to go through the launch site entrance. This is only the start of what is a very long process of building a full orbital launch pad.

Orbital Launch Site Changes

After months of pipework to hook in the new nine horizontal tanks, SpaceX has now tested and begun filling them with LOX and Liquid Nitrogen (LN2). With these operational, SpaceX no longer needs the vertical tanks, and to go with that, all of the welds for the Cryo Shell lifting points have been inspected before being removed.

Liquid Oxygen Line for the Horizontal Tanks being Installed (Credit: Mary/BocaChicaGal for NSF)

So far, SpaceX has started removing the perlite from one of the LN2 tanks and is setting up to do the same to the second LN2 and the three LOX tanks. Now, SpaceX may only remove at least one more tank before Flight 4, but by Flight 5, all of the original vertical tanks might be gone.

Continuing with upgrades to the Launch Site, SpaceX has upgraded the left chopstick arm with a new and upgraded actuator to allow for a higher flow rate into the actuator. This, along with SpaceX either upgrading or increasing the output of the chopstick hydraulic system, has greatly increased the speed of the arm for opening and closing.

Along with a faster arm SpaceX has been adding conduit for the wiring and adding padding back on the sticks ahead of a potential booster catch on Flight 5.

Chopstick Hydraulics Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Flight 4 Preparations

In preparation for Flight 4 and hopefully a quicker pad turnaround time between Flight 4 and 5 SpaceX has upgraded the linkages that help move the hold-down arms in and out of the inner Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) ring.

Teams have also installed a new set of clamps on the hold-down arms, which they have done prior to each flight so far.

Other preparations for Flight 4 include a new Booster Quick Disconnect (QD) Hood, which has a changed design and probably a better seal to try to protect the main cryogenic supply lines going into the QD. The Ship QD got a set of extra insulation wrap on its main supply hoses, and SpaceX recently completed a full retraction test.

The biggest milestone ahead of a possible Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) over the coming weeks was SpaceX spinning up the Orbital Tank Farm (OTF) and spending an entire day purging the lines and performing operational checks. Usually, this means SpaceX has completed the required work for the Orbital Launch Pad cryogenic systems and should soon be ready for a WDR or flight.

Booster 11 is still in Mega Bay 1, having received its Hot Stage Ring, which indicates that it is ready to go to the launch site.

However the launch site may still need some work ahead of Booster 11 being mounted on the OLM, so SpaceX is keeping the booster in Mega Bay 1 until teams are ready. However there are two 12am to 3am closures on May 7 and 8 which may indicate a rollout of either Booster 11, Ship 29, or both vehicles.

Ship 29 Thermal Protection System Work (Credit: Mary/BocaChicaGal for NSF)

SpaceX has been working hard on Booster 11’s other half, Ship 29, with a lot of heat shield work. This work is being done because of lessons learned with how to attach tiles and because teams want to give this ship the best possible chance of making it through reentry. Should Ship 29 make it through reentry, it would be a significant milestone early in the program.

If SpaceX rolls out both Flight 4 vehicles this week, a WDR may be planned shortly after. Even if SpaceX can complete a WDR soon, there is still no news on when Flight 3’s mishap investigation will be completed. Once that is done, Flight 4 may not be far away.

Featured Image: Flight 4 Preps Continue with Ship 30 on Pad B (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

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