Progress toward the second flight of the world’s most powerful launch vehicle continues to take place at Starbase. With Ship 25 passing its six-engine Static Fire test, the focus has returned to completing upgrades to the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM), with the installation of a steel plate water deluge system now taking place.
That will set the stage for Booster 9 to undergo its pre-launch testing, including Static Fire tests that will also provide validation of the new groundwork under the OLM.
Concrete and Steel
A wave of over 100 trucks of concrete late last month marked the opening salvo in SpaceX’s efforts to fill in the hole that was left after Booster 7’s launch with Ship 24 on the maiden flight of Starship.
This was followed by the rollout of the central steel plate, which was positioned close to the launch site along with a jig that rolled ahead of the plate.
A second wave of concrete trucks then arrived for the final major pour under the OLM, with around 300 trucks being utilized in total during the two waves of deliveries.
It did not take long for that massive amount of concrete to cure, as July 5 saw the jig undertaking a test roll under the OLM on top of the Self-Propelled Modular Transporter (SPMT). That confirmed the surface was ready for the steel plate, whose installation occurred just hours later.
This system – along with a faster ignition-to-launch duration for the 33 engines on the Booster – is required after lessons learned from the maiden launch.
“It’s two layers of very thick plate steel that are also sort of perforated on the upper side so that you have what is basically a massive, super strong steel showerhead pointing up. It’s a mega steel pancake. This thing’s a beast,” noted Elon Musk during a Twitter Spaces event.
The large central piece of this water deluge system – aimed to avoid a “rock tornado” seen during the first test flight – was lifted onto the jig and then rolled under the OLM, before it was translated horizontally and placed into the ground.
This plate was lifted and then lowered several times during the night, likely part of fit checks and final work to create channels for the manifold pipes. While some standalone tests are expected, the major validation of this system will occur during the Booster 9 Static Fire test.
The final parts of the deluge system began to arrive at the pad on Thursday, with notices for two “rolling roadblocks” posted by the local authority.
This wasn’t the only work that has taken place at the launch site of late, with the Booster Quick Disconnect (BQD) hood reinstalled and the Ship Quick Disconnect (SQD) returning, with its plate housed slightly higher on the tower to cater for the additional height of the stack.
The increase in height for what is already the world’s tallest rocket is related to the extra ring that will be installed atop Super Heavy, starting with Booster 9. This will allow for hot staging to be employed; Elon Musk’s self-proclaimed late change that will allow the vehicle to “never stop thrusting” during ascent.
Booster 9 remains at the Production Site, as part of a growing family of Boosters and Ships. It is not currently known when Booster 9 will roll to the launch site, but given the pace of the water deluge system installation, this event could take place in a matter of weeks.
All eyes will be on the Mega Bay to spot the attachment of hot staging rings to the Boosters that are in residence at the build site.
Ship 25 is now technically ready to take part in the second test flight, having completed its full-duration six-engine Static Fire test, with apparently-positive results per Elon Musk.
Looks good so far
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 27, 2023
A few Thermal Protection System (TPS) tiles were liberated during the test – although this was expected due to additional vibrations induced when firing up the engines whilst the Ship is bolted to the test stand. The tiles will be replaced ahead of Ship 25 being stacked on Booster 9.
Ships 28 and 29 are currently stablemates inside the High Bay with the former receiving a payload bay door that allows for Starlinks to be “Pez Dispenered” out into space.
Additional capacity continues to be built at the Production site, with the second Mega Bay making great progress via the assembly of prefabricated sections. StarFactory also continues to grow, and will eventually replace the production tents at the site.
This article will be updated during the continuing work this week.
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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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