Second Starbase Tower rises as SpaceX gears up to Flight Five

by Aaron McCrea

Following the successes of Flight Four in early June, SpaceX is preparing Ship 30 and Booster 12 ready for Flight Five ahead of a launch later this summer. All this is taking place while an incredible amount of infrastructure is being created and worked on at Starbase, including the new office building and the beginning of a second tower.

Upgrades to Masseys:

SpaceX’s test site at Starbase, Masseys – is also picking up the pace, with Ship 26 conducting a Static Fire test on June 3. This marked Ship 26’s first-ever multi-engine static fire and the inaugural first lighting of the Massey’s test stand.

After nearly two hours from the first signs of venting, Ship 26 lit its engines for six seconds. With this test, Ship 26 has completed four cryogenic proof tests, one preburner test, and two static fires since its first cryogenic test in February of 2023. 

Ship 26 lights its engines for the first-ever static fire at Massey’s (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

The brand-new test stand held strong under the grueling power of the Raptor engine, projecting the steam and exhaust away from the vehicle and pad and out towards the Rio Grande River. As a bonus, Highway Four stayed open while the static fire roared on, proving that static fire tests no longer require a road closure. This change will result in faster turnaround times for vehicle testing and launches.

Massey’s tank farm is continuing to be upgraded. Foundation work has been spotted to the right of the current liquid oxygen (LOX) tanks for a new expansion of the LOX supply. These new tanks will feed into the Ship static firing test stand and double with the cryogenic testing area, allowing SpaceX to test new vehicles more commonly.

Not far from the new LOX tanks, a more permanent structural test stand is being assembled for test tanks like B14.1. This prototype tank section is designed to withstand the stresses the booster must endure when landing on the chopsticks. Gaining this data before flight five is imperative so SpaceX knows the limits of a catchable vehicle and does not make a haphazard attempt. 

Ship 26 made another move on June 12, being lifted onto a transport stand and relocated from Massey’s to the Rocket Garden. Being composed of nearly two-year-old hardware, it has its days numbered. The Ship is now believed to be in line for scrapping, and whenever the next lull in work occurs, it will likely be scrapped. 

Preparation for Tower Stack:

To the left of the Rocket Garden and Ship 26 resides the Sanchez site. The site’s current main goal is staging the tower pieces to be rolled out to the launch site. Seven tower pieces are nearly ready to be stacked, with only small additions like plumbing left to be included before transport.

Flyover views of the Sanchez site holding 7 of 9 tower sections (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

The final two tower sections and new chopstick arms are soon to be on the way from Roberts Road in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, with tropical storm warnings being given out to much of South Texas, they will delayed by a few more days than expected. 

Production Site Infrastructure:

Between Sanchez and the production site is the new parking garage. This structure has the entire exterior completed with only the interior requiring additional work. Concrete is being poured on the ground floor of the garage, and finishing touches such as lights still need to be added. Once this garage comes online it will be open to all SpaceX employees creating safer road conditions along Highway Four. 

Mega Bay 2 has received many useful upgrades. It is now attached to the Starfactory, meaning that any ring sections to be stacked will no longer have to leave the factory. Also, Mega Bay 2 is currently gaining permanent work platforms. This will reduce the time spent building scaffolding around each of the vehicles prepared in the building. 

A look at Mega Bay 2’s upgrades and attachment to the Starfactory (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF/L2)

On the adjacent side of the Starfactory from Mega Bay 2, SpaceX’s new office building is being constructed, with the footprint already completed. The first walls have begun to go up on the north side of the building, and all of the flooring has been installed. Once completed, the office building will be attached to the Starfactory, allowing workers to walk the entire way from the office building to Mega Bay 2 without ever stepping outside.

Flight Five Upgrades:

Ship 30 continues to receive upgrades, preparing it for Flight Five. Now, with most of the older tiles removed, new similar-sized tiles are being attached to Ship 30. These tiles could potentially have a different formula, which would make them more resistant to heat while holding a similar size.

Also, an ablative pyron layer is being added to the hot spots where Ship 30 is most likely infiltrated by plasma during entry. Pyron is used in the Falcon 9’s engine bay and is a material that SpaceX knows and trusts.

TPS work on Ship 30 – via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

Along with removing and adding 18,000 tiles, SpaceX also removed and added a raptor vacuum (R-VAC) engine from Ship 30. SpaceX decided to remove R-VAC 378 and install R-VAC 390 into Ship 30 the old-fashioned way. Workers lifted the Ship using a crane and removed the engine while it was still hanging; they then added the new R-VAC the same way.

This was most likely a one-off occurrence due to Mega Bay 2’s current revamp. With this engine swap, a second static fire of Ship 30 will probably be required before launch.

Moving on from the Ship, work continues on the orbital launch mount (OLM). The OLM’s hold-down clamps were changed out, as is normally done after every flight. New clamps were then reinstalled into the OLM soon after, and the system will be recertified before Booster 12’s stack. Moving up the tower, the Ship’s quick disconnect (SQD) arm received refurbishment on June 18. It was noticeably straightened into its normal position, but work on the actuators has yet to begin.

Also, the chopsticks have been testing their systems on the tower to prepare for Flight Five’s catch attempt. The chopstick landing rails have shock absorbers, which have been tested to help soften Booster 12’s future landing. The Booster stabilization pins have also been reinstalled on the OLM deck. These will stay on until close to flight, when they will again be removed about a week before launch. 

Meanwhile, an old vertical GSE tank is actively being scrapped, leaving only two to remove. To add to the tank farm, new foundations for two LOX tanks are being laid, with one on its way to be installed.

Views of the GSE tank removal, chopstick upgrades, and ship quick disconnect repairs (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

When these tanks go online, they will help reinforce the tank farm’s supply. Both orbital launch pads will have access to the same tank farm, creating more space around orbital launch pad B. These two tanks are beginning to block the main entrance of the launch site, so SpaceX has begun dismantling a building, clearing an easier path for what could be a new main entrance west of Starhopper.

Orbital Launch Pad B:

At the launch site, a brand-new tower is rising. Earlier in the year, piles were drilled deep into the rock bed beneath Starbase to supplement this new construction.

Tower Two work via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

Four steel corner pieces have been installed. The exterior walls between each corner are beginning to be put up and welded together.

Once the walls are up, this section of the tower will be filled with concrete solidifying it into place. Additionally, long sections of rebar are being drilled deep into the foundation and then resolitified around the new tower adding to the structure of the site.

The CC8800-1 crane is being assembled ahead of the tower stacking. This crane will go through multiple phases, the first being the addition of a boom. They will then attach the boom to the crane and later a jib to the boom to lift the tower sections. Then more pieces will be added to the crane to lengthen it over time so it can reach the top of the second 146-meter tower. 

The orbital launch pad B will have its OLM facing towards the south. The design for the new OLM is currently unknown but major changes are expected to be made from the original. Its construction is expected to begin at Sanchez in a few months.

(Lead image: View of the launch site with the second tower in the foreground. Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

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