Monday, May 20, 2024

Booster 11 Conducts Engine Testing as Starbase Continues to Change

NASABooster 11 Conducts Engine Testing as Starbase Continues to Change


Peparations for the fourth flight of Starship are in full swing, with Ship 29 having completed its engine testing campaign, while Booster 11 rolled to the Orbital Launch Pad (OLP) to complete its own engine test campaign. Elon Musk noted the fourth flight of Starship is set for May.

Ship 29 and Booster 11

After rolling out to complete its engine test campaign, Ship 29 performed two static fires. The first one involved normal six-engine static fire to verify all the engines. The second static was a single-engine burn from the header tanks.

Once its engine test campaign was completed, Ship 29 was rolled back to the High Bay, where final launch preparations are occurring. These will most likely include installing the four Starlink dishes on the nosecone like Ship 28, providing everyone with nearly uninterrupted onboard views.

A big piece of the final preparations will be the testing and repairs of the heat shield. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that the main goal for Flight 4 is to get through the main peak heating portion of reentry, so a clean and working heat shield is required.

In addition, any possible modifications may need to be made to Ship 29 following the roll issues that Ship 28 encountered.

Ship 29 Heat Shield Repairs (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

Now, Ship 29’s partner, Booster 11, has been rolled out and lifted onto the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) so its engine testing can be completed.

This will most likely mirror Booster 10’s campaign, where SpaceX elected to skip a spin prime and went directly for a 33 engine static fire. Once this is complete, Booster 11 will likely roll back to Mega Bay for any final modifications required before its flight. Currently, the booster is waiting for the Orbital Launch Pad (OLP) to be ready.

There is a single closure scheduled April 5, from 10am – 10pm CDT, in order to complete this testing. However, everything is fluid in Starbase, and it could slip a few days.

Orbital Launch Pad

Crews have been working tirelessly to prepare the OLP for Booster 11 static fire testing. Recently teams reinstalled replacements of the two main propellant lines for the Booster Quick Disconnect along with the back of the hood. These two lines were heavily damaged during the last flight and hopefully, these will fare better than before.

Orbital Launch Mount (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Along with work on the Booster Quick Disconnect, teams have been working on the chopstick carriage and arms. SpaceX is trying to reroute much of the wiring and add conduit shielding to keep it away from the booster’s exhaust as it ascends. During the last launch, this exhaust burned up a decent amount of the wiring, causing the teams to have to make these modifications.

Once all of this was completed, along with the usual refurbishment on the inside of the OLM, the pad was ready for Booster 11, which rolled out during the week, and then conducted a Static Fire test on Friday.

Production Site

Starfactory has been increasing in size regularly. SpaceX has built up what looks to be the main entrance for the factory, which will have a large triangle of glass on the front. With the final pieces of expansion for the factory quickly being completed, it won’t be long before Starfactory as a building is finished.

SpaceX will need much more time to plan and move all of the necessary equipment before Starfactory becomes fully operational.

Starfactory Glass Area (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

SpaceX’s new high bay, Mega Bay 2, has slowly been getting fitted to work on ships. However, teams seemed to have removed the work stand that was used to install Ship 29’s engines. It is unclear why SpaceX would remove it, but it could be that teams wanted to get engines on Ship 29, and then crews would figure out the layout for Mega Bay 2.

Currently, only one of three work stands is installed in the bay, which is covered in tarps as teams continue to assemble it. Along with the stand work, Mega Bay 2’s fold-down door has been installed; this is the same design as used on Mega Bay 1. With an operational center stand and new door Mega Bay 2 has gotten its second customer with Ship 30 being moved in for engine install.

Mega Bay 2 and the Other High Bays (Credit: Mary (@bocachicagal) For NSF)

Two new buildings are under construction at Starbase; one is a new parking garage, and the other is a new office building. The parking garage seems to have all of its footings drilled as the drilling rig has left the site, so this structure may start to rise soon.

The office building has been slowly rising over the past few weeks and looks to be only three levels. The permit application for the building stated five levels, so this is set to get even taller. SpaceX will most likely use this building to replace the Stargate Building next to the High Bay, and it may even house a launch control center for the Orbital Launch Site.

Office Building Being Built (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Masseys

SpaceX has been slowly building a large ship static fire test stand at Masseys over the last few months. This stand will consist of a large flame trench with a water-cooled flame bucket like the one at the tripod test stand at SpaceX’s Mcgregor engine test facility. The stand itself may be mobile so that SpaceX doesn’t need to keep a crane and two-point lifter at Masseys at all times.  

This will allow SpaceX to use the two-point lifter system inside the bays rather than outside and in the elements. The stand, flame trench, and tank farm are still months away from completion. But once completed and operational, SpaceX will no longer need Suborbital Pad B and the Suborbital Tank Farm, giving way for Orbital Launch Pad 2.

New Ship Static Fire Stand (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF)

Orbital Launch Pad 2 & LC-39A

SpaceX has been completing groundwork at the site for Orbital Launch Pad 2. For the past few weeks, crews have been installing dewatering wicks into the ground to help prepare the ground for eventual piling work. Teams have also nearly completed sections eight and nine of the tower at Sanchez, while sections one, two, three, six, and seven sit at the Port of Brownsville awaiting transport to Sanchez.

LC-39A Starship Pad Missing Legs (Credit: Max Evans for NSF)

This new pad may be quite different from the current OLP at Boca since at the Starship pad at LC-39A, SpaceX has started to be partially scrapped. Crews at the cape have knocked down all of the six OLM legs at LC-39A, leaving it open to what kind of pad design SpaceX intends to use going forward.

With the legs coming down, SpaceX may opt to scrap the OLM that was built inside Hangar M and recently rolled outside. If this is the case, SpaceX could radically change the design of the launch mount.

Booster 4

After sitting in the rocket garden for 630 days, Booster 4 was finally scrapped so that SpaceX could clean up old and unused hardware.

Booster 4’s Aft Section (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

Booster 4 never fired its engines, but it helped SpaceX work out issues with the Orbital Tank Farm (OTF), which would pave the way for Booster 7.

After all of the cryogenic testing, it was found that Booster 4’s internals were damaged by foreign object debris (FOD), which prevented it from being used further.

Featured Image: Booster 11 static fire test at the Launch Site (Credit: Mary – Bocachicagal)

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