On the heels of last month’s dramatic launch of Booster 7 and Ship 24, repairs on the Orbital Launch Site and tank farm are proceeding at pace. Over at the Production Site, several Ships are in various stages of preparation, ahead of the selection for which will be the next to launch with Booster 9.
Ships 25 through 29 are in play, with the former undergoing cryo proofing at the Masseys test site, and the latter currently stacking in the High Bay.
Repairs ahead of the next launch:
Scaffolding has been installed on the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) and a set of stairs for worker access. The OLM is over 70 feet tall, so the scaffolding protects workers as they fix things like plumbing raceways, electronics, and other items.
Earthwork on the OLM foundation is also underway, as damaged rebar, concrete, and dirt is being removed. In addition, new dirt is being poured in to prepare the way for further work. This will prepare the way for a “sandwich” of steel plates and a water deluge system to be added in the coming weeks.
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The booster quick disconnect (QD) fitting on the OLM is also undergoing work. A cover is being placed on its pipes to protect the plumbing.
The platforms, colloquially named “dance floor” and “taco stand,” have been moved to the launch site, possibly to keep the construction site less cluttered. These platforms are used to assist in launch preparation work.
The tank farm has also been undergoing repairs, with at least one hole seen being patched on one of the white tank shells placed on the vertical tanks. These tanks were made in the original high bay using construction techniques similar to those involved in Starship construction.
SpaceX will replace these tanks with horizontal “hotdog” shaped tanks that will be better protected from launch pad debris. The vertical tanks intended to store liquid methane were replaced last year by horizontal tanks better suited to the purpose.
While the OLM and tank farm repairs continue, work has also been done on some future ships and Booster 11. Ship 28 is now in a relatively advanced stage of construction, while Ship 29’s nose section has also been seen recently. Ship 29, like Ship 28, has the tiles and fins needed for reentry testing.
Ship 28 was moved to the side of the original “High Bay” to make room for Ship 29.
Ship 29’s nosecone has been welded to a payload section, so it is possible it could be used for at least test deployments of Starlink v2 satellites. However, it remains to be seen when the first payload deployment flight will occur.
Booster 11 has been seen being assembled in the first “Mega Bay,” and the liquid oxygen tank has been mated to the thrust puck that contains the mountings for the vehicle’s Raptor engines.
Booster 9 will fly next, but Booster 11 could follow in fairly short order. Both boosters have numerous improvements over Booster 7, which flew last month.
Out at the former Masseys gun range turned test site, Ship 25 has undergone what appears to have been a successful cryo proofing test. Ship 25 is the sister ship to the Ship 24 lying in pieces at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and was built to the same standards.
Though Ship 25, equipped with tiles and fins, has been extensively tested, and would appear to be closer to flight readiness than Ships 28 or 29, it was constructed last year. As a result, SpaceX might want to use a newer Starship with design improvements and learnings from last month’s launch.
Ship 26, not equipped with tiles or fins, has been seen with the Raptor stand underneath it at the “rocket garden” storage area. Some preparations appear to have been made to the vehicle, and it is still a possibility it could be chosen to fly next. Ship 27, similarly equipped to Ship 26, is also in the storage area, and still could be prepared for a future flight.
A new high bay is also in work for the Starbase site. White skeletal elements have been seen that will make up part of the new bay’s structure, and they will eventually be moved to the foundation being prepared for this bay. A new high bay would increase the number of ships and boosters that can be constructed and prepared for flight at any one time.
The skeletal elements of the new high bay are expected to be covered with skin soon, and they will be moved to the foundation by a crane when it is procured. It is believed that these elements may have been diverted from SpaceX’s site in Florida, as there is no room there now.
The sea level thrust simulator has been removed from Suborbital Pad A, and this would indicate that future ambient and cryo proof testing for ships will be done at the Masseys site.
Moving ship testing to Masseys would allow construction and repair work, static fire testing, and launches to be done unimpeded at the Orbital Launch Site, while still allowing proof testing on new ships and test articles.
Other work at Masseys includes testing done on the Ship 26.1 section and testing to destruction on Nose Cone 31. Ship 26.1 is a dedicated test article similar to Booster 7.1 and other articles used to test certain aspects of the Starship system.
It remains to be seen what will become of the A and B suborbital pads that supported Starship atmospheric test flights.
It remains to be seen exactly when the next Starship launch will be. Still, items to watch include installing the steel plates and deluge system, tank farm repairs, recertifying the flight termination system that did not immediately destroy Starship on its first launch, and FAA approval of the Starship system’s return to flight.
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(Lead Image: Starship doing somersaults. Credit: Max Evans for NSF/L2)
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