SpaceX is deep into preparations for the next Starship flight, focusing on the Orbital Launch Pad (OLP). Booster 10 and Ship 28 are set to return to the launch site in the coming week or two, ahead of a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) that will set the stage for the third launch of the world’s largest and most powerful rocket.
Upcoming Wet Dress Rehearsal
With both Ship 28 and Booster 10 expected to return to the pad next week at the earliest, SpaceX would be able to hold to their timeline of having vehicle readiness by the end of January.
Recently, Ship 28 was taken off the turntable and placed on a transport stand. Once both vehicles return to the pad, the expectation is SpaceX will complete a WDR just like the last two flights.
This WDR could be even more vital than the last two completed because of the upgrades and changes to the Orbital Tarm Farm (OTF). Since Flight 2, SpaceX has installed extra pumps and subcoolers as well as changed up the plumping so that the ship subcoolers are separate from the booster ones. This would help improve efficiency in getting the stack fueled much quicker.
Changes to the Orbital Tank Farm and Launch Site
After the rollback of Booster 10 and Ship 28, SpaceX began to remove and scrap the old water tank and one of the repurposed Methane tanks. The old water tank hadn’t been in use for some time because leaks started appearing early on, and SpaceX had to abandon it.
That water tank was just a cryo shell like the others used on the other cryo tanks. However, no additional reinforcement was added to it, which is why the tank was abandoned. The repurposed methane tanks filled the role of this water tank, which is used for heat exchangers located in the cryo bunker. These heat exchangers are likely used to help heat up Liquid Nitrogen, which is then used to help purge and add pressure to the cryo lines.
SpaceX is also adding large vertical I beams and cross supports to the Liquid Nitrogen Tank and the still remaining Water tank that is exposed to the exhaust plume. These are to reinforce the cryo shell during static fires and launches because the cryo shells that have now been removed were damaged due to sound waves from engine firings.
Over the past several weeks, SpaceX has been completing small upgrades all over the OLP. The HESCO barriers that were next to the main blast wall protecting the tank farm were removed and are being replaced by a concrete wall. Plates are being added on top of the concrete at the base of the tower because of erosion from all the engine firings.
The Ship Quick disconnect arm was repainted, and SpaceX could be doing upgrades to the arm as well. Several burn plates on the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) ring have been replaced, especially the ones near the Booster Quick Disconnect. Those get more cooked than others because of the pad avoidance maneuver that Starship performs at liftoff.
These plates act as an ablative armor for the OLM deck and inner ring. Along with all the small upgrades, SpaceX is taking this time to repair damage still left over from Flight 1, such as repairing welds inside the OLM. SpaceX still has a lot of work to do to make this pad easily refurbished.
Along with all the changes to the OTF, the SpaceX LR11000 crane was laid down, and SpaceX and Buckner have been taking the crane apart piece by piece. It is unclear if this heavy maintenance considering this was first raised over two years ago, or if it is being taken apart to be shipped to another location.
Tower Two and Sanchez
SpaceX has started putting together some of the pieces for tower two at Sanchez, and one of the pieces for the top section that holds the pulleys for the draw works arrived this week. SpaceX has built up an entire area at Sanchez dedicated to building the second tower and pad and is expected to ship most of the materials from the Cape.
It is still unclear where this second tower will be located. However, in a recent all-hands meeting, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk showed an older animation where the second tower was to the south. But, there has yet to be a confirmation if that was still the case. Starbase General Manager Kathryn Lueders mentioned that this would be a launch tower several weeks back.
SpaceX is still working on the second Booster transport stand as well as the second Ship work stand for the Ship Bay. Once those are complete, work should start on the third transport stand and work stand.
Ship 26 has been on the engine install stand since Jan 10, and SpaceX is still adding more stringers to the payload section. What Ship 26 will be used for in the future is still a mystery, but the most likely outcome is a structural test article.
SpaceX has been making great progress on Starfactory and getting the New High Bay (Ship Bay) fully kitted out and built. The roof on the new Ship Bay’s roof is nearly complete, and SpaceX has been installing all of the lights and elevator equipment inside. Starfactory has been constantly growing, and footings are already starting to be dug out where Tent 3 was, which will be the final section of the factory.
The Ringyard is completely cleaned out as SpaceX is starting the final section of Starfactory. A Booster common section, a Nosecone section, and a booster forward section were moved behind the High Bay, and everything else was pushed to the new scrap yard in Sanchez.
After the cryo testing of Ship 30 and Booster 12, SpaceX continued the construction of a possible flame trench and static fire stand for ships. Currently, SpaceX is still using Suborbital Pad B for static fire testing, and it is unknown if SpaceX has the approval for static fire vehicles at Masseys, like at the launch site. But paperwork could be in the works for such testing.
Along with the construction of the possible flame trench, SpaceX has installed cryogenic pumps, subcoolers, and extra tanks to support a static fire stand.
Flight 4’s vehicles, Ship 29 and Booster 11, are still on their respective work stands getting kitted out for static fires and flights. Flight 5’s vehicles, Ship 30 and Booster 12, have both completed cryo, and Booster 12 is not on a work stand after having rolled back recently.
Ship 30 is still waiting for the next stand to be installed in the Ship Bay. With Booster 12 being placed on the center work stand there is now three full boosters inside Mega Bay getting engines or being worked on.
Along with three full boosters in the Mega Bay a big milestone was hit for Flight 6 as Booster 13’s Methane tank is finished stacking. This makes nearly four flight capable boosters complete at once.
Currently, other than catching glimpses of possible Version 2 parts inside Starfactory, there is little evidence that anything will appear outside of the factory anytime soon. The first pieces of Version 2 could just be pathfinder test tanks.
Hopefully, there is evidence of the second tower being started soon, along with pieces of Version 2 of Starship showing up.
Featured Image: Ship 28 Peaking out of High Bay (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF – vast amounts of hi res Starbase Flyover pics and daily Starbase pics – 100s a month – available to all L2 members)
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