Two months after Starship’s first integrated test flight, engine testing is already underway for Ship 25, the ship that will fly on the second launch of Starship. At the same time, SpaceX is approaching the final stretch of completing the foundation work needed at the orbital launch mount (OLM) from where Super Heavy and Starship are set to lift off again no earlier than August. Ship 25 conducted a Spin Prime test on Wednesday.
Work is also at a good pace to upgrade and update Starship’s production facilities at Starbase. This has come at the expense of once more changing the company’s plans for Starship in Florida.
Ship 25 engine test campaign begins
In preparation for the second integrated flight test of Starship, SpaceX teams have been readying Ship 25 for its engine test campaign. This series of testing is aimed at qualifying the vehicle for that flight and includes everything from a spin prime test all the way to a six-engine static fire test of the vehicle’s Raptor engines.
Work ahead of this test campaign included applying slight modifications to the ship’s engine shielding and internal tank structure based on lessons learned during the first flight. For this, the SpaceX LR11000 crane was attached to Ship 25’s nosecone to provide structural rigidity to its tanks.
Once all the work was completed, the crane was disconnected from the ship, and the aft flaps were unstrapped. The first test day, June 14, saw the loading of propellants onto the vehicle ahead of what was expected to be a spin prime test. During this test, the engine oxidizer pump is spun up to full power — simulating the start-up sequence of the engine without any actual ignition.
However, close to the test T0 an abort was called and the vehicle was detanked. A new attempt resulted in the test being completed on Wednesday.
SPIN PRIME! Ship 25 conducts a Spin Prime test where the engine’s turbopumps are brought up to speed but there was no ignition.
— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) June 21, 2023
It is likely that multiple spin prime tests will be performed ahead of the static fire tests. It should — hopefully — only be a matter of weeks until the ship modifications are finally tested and the engines qualified for flight.
OLM rebar work and upcoming concrete pour
None of Ship 25’s testing would be valuable without a launch pad where the full Starship stack could launch from. During the first integrated test flight of Starship, Super Heavy Booster 7’s 30 working engines dug a sizable hole under the OLM during liftoff.
The first images of it pictured a dramatic scene and pointed at some tough repair work ahead for SpaceX teams. Over the last two months, the hole was covered and reinforcements have been installed deep into the ground to strengthen the soil.
More recently, teams have been installing several tons of rebar underneath the OLM. While some rebar remains to be installed, as seen from aerial pictures captured by NSF, this work is expected to be finished soon and should be followed by a convoy of concrete trucks to fill up the pit.
SpaceX will then install water-cooled steel plates over this concrete which will help support them and serve as an anchor for them.
These steel plates are currently being worked on near the propellant production site, often also called the Sanchez site. While six plates are needed to be installed between the columns of the OLM, only three are planned to carry the big water manifolds that were seen transported from Florida earlier this year.
Of these three, two of them are now almost complete with a third one still undergoing extensive work to be ready for installation.
Additionally, a new set of water tanks have been added to the back side of the launch tower at the launch site. Here, six water deluge tanks have been installed over the past months and a new set of high-pressure tanks have now been stacked and installed as well.
More recently, teams have installed two large pipes that connect the water tanks with the pipes leading up to the OLM. These two pipes bend upward and then downward, indicating that perhaps not only the tanks will be filled with water but also the length of the pipes leading up to that bend.
Without pressure, the water would not be able to keep flowing past the bend and would remain stationary. Once pressure is applied via the high-pressure tanks, the water will be able to overcome the bend and flow through the pipes all the way to the plates under the OLM.
Vehicle production status at Starbase
While SpaceX continues working on the launch pad facilities, production is still in full swing at Starbase.
This includes the completion of stacking for Ship 29 in the High Bay and Booster 11 inside the Mega Bay as well as the start of stacking for Booster 12.
While Ship 29’s stacking is now complete, work remains ahead to complete the vehicle. Its stablemate inside the High Bay, Ship 28, also saw the removal of its payload bay door. This is unlike the work performed on Ship 24 and Ship 25 to seal their payload bay doors. On the contrary, it seems like this could be to change the current design or just upgrade it.
Parts for Ship 30, the next ship in the line of production after 29, have also been staged at the “ringyard” near the High Bay. A new set of vent-like structures can be observed on Ship 30’s nosecone which may indicate the addition of new vents to act as thrusters on this part of the vehicle. However, it is still too early to tell for certain.
In the Mega Bay, Booster 11 completed stacking earlier this month and work is already well underway for stacking Booster 12. The latter vehicle’s LOX tank is now complete and is only missing the engine section. Stacking of the vehicle’s methane tank started as early as June 15 and, at the current pace, will likely be complete before the end of the month.
Starship’s new production facilities at Starbase
In the last weeks, SpaceX has completely dismantled the ground fabrication building. Aerial shots indicate it might be rebuilt at the Sanchez site as can be seen by the presence of new foundations similar in size to that of this building.
During that time, teams started installing the first beams and columns of the Starfactory building expansion. The full outline of the future expansion has been made apparent, taking up the space where the ground fabrication building, propulsion building, and windbreak once stood.
The new Mega Bay building has also grown in size in the last few weeks, now having its first two levels completed. At least two corners for the third level are nearly complete as well and the third and fourth corners follow closely.
Plans for Starship from Florida change once more
While vehicle production continues strong at Starbase and new facilities are built, the same cannot be said of the Starship facilities in Florida.
Work on the second set of tower sections, chopsticks, carriage system, and QD arm at SpaceX’s Roberts Road facility has come to a halt. Contractor equipment has visibly disappeared and other construction equipment has been removed.
The Florida Mega Bay parts have also made their way to Starbase, becoming the second Mega Bay at the Texas facility. The two big cranes that were previously at Roberts Road were also moved to Starbase to aid in the construction of that new Mega Bay.
On top of this, SpaceX has changed the use of the building previously thought to be the factory for Starship sections. This facility is now being used to process Starlink payload integration with Falcon 9’s fairings. The facility was first used to integrate satellites for the Starlink Group 6-4 mission earlier this month.
This mission is believed to be the first time SpaceX has used its new payload processing facility at Roberts Road.
NSF’s Space Coast Live cameras captured the fairing with the Starlink satellites onboard passing in front of the VAB on Friday. https://t.co/bWDuxt1M5U https://t.co/CwOZxWlL7L pic.twitter.com/1X2NrTGozh
— Alejandro Alcantarilla Romera (Alex) (@Alexphysics13) June 4, 2023
Despite this, work is still underway on the Starship launch pad at Launch Complex 39A where cranes and aerial work platforms continue construction on the site. Even though this work has slowed down, its continuation means SpaceX likely has no plans to retire all Starship efforts from Florida.
Without a production facility in Florida, vehicles set to fly from the Space Coast would need to arrive from Starbase, increasing the production demand at the Texas facility. This means that the vast expansion of the production buildings at Starbase could have been at the expense of removing production from Florida for the time being until Starship’s design is reliable and proven.
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(Lead Image: Aerial view of the launch site at Starbase, Texas. Credit: Nic Ansuini for NSF/L2)
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