After Static Ignition of 29 Raptor engines under Booster 9, SpaceX took the first stage of its next flight test back to production. Meanwhile, the hot staging extension is still at the Masseys test site as the company prepares to test the most significant change between first and second flights.
Static Fire completed Sunday, after the first Spin Prime test on Friday. In the SpaceX stream for the event, it was confirmed that the test is scheduled for five seconds between the first ignition of a Raptor engine and its complete shutdown. Both the FireX system and the new deluge system were used for this test.
FireX is the system already in place for the first flight. It is used to propel gas bubbles under the Orbital Launch Mount and was installed after the Booster 7 Spin Prime anomaly to prevent such incidents in the future.
The Raid system is the new system installed to prevent severe damage to the launch site in future trials after Booster 7 destroyed most of the concrete under the launch pad on takeoff, as well as damaging several other parts of the launch infrastructure, including the tank farm. and parts of Mechazilla.
After the raid system returned, Booster 9 fired 29 of its Raptor engines into the concrete beneath it. Apparently, the raid system worked, as no further damage was observed to the launch infrastructure. But Booster 7’s Static Fire didn’t destroy the infrastructure either, as pre-launch fire tests were conducted with shorter duration and less thrust.
However, when the dust cloud was observed compared to the Static Fire of Booster 7, the energy was apparently better suppressed by the new system as the dust and vapor cloud formed was lower and less energetic. Apart from some floating earth and a damaged fence near the launch site, nothing appears to have been damaged from this test.
After testing, SpaceX confirmed that the test was canceled after 2.74 seconds instead of the planned five, and the four Raptor engines were not firing correctly. That’s why testing was done with 29 Raptor instead of 33. It is unknown whether this is due to the failure of the individual Raptors or whether the fault is due to a common part between these engines.
After testing, SpaceX moved quickly as the Booster was ejected from the Orbital Launch Cradle a few hours later. It was then moved to Highway 4 and returned to the Production Site for further study and inspection. If potentially faulty Raptors need to be replaced, SpaceX can replace it here as well.
Meanwhile, after the test item performs its structural test at the Masseys test site, the Hot Staging ring may see installation in Mega Bay.
The test article is on the “Life-Breaking device” that can apply vertical forces to the ring, just as it would encounter during flight. It is installed between a Ship rear section and a Booster forward section to simulate the entire area. At this point, it’s unclear whether this test article is also the designated section for Booster 9, or whether SpaceX will be able to test it to fully explore the structural limits of the ring before putting another ring on top of Booster 9.
With the Ship Quick Disconnect modification, the connection point to Ships has now been increased by a ring section or approximately two meters. With this modification, SpaceX is locked in raising the Booster one ring section for the next flight. This is expected to be a hot staging ring.
Hot staging will allow the Ship’s engines to run while the Booster still fires three of its engines. This will reduce gravity losses during the preparation event to increase Starship’s efficiency and capability as it will need less propellant to perform the same mission.
Ship 25, the upper stage of the next flight, is still parked in the rocket yard near the production site. After the Static Fire of three sea-level and three vacuum Raptors, the Ship was taken back to the production area. This may have to do with further work on it, or SpaceX wanted to protect the upper stage by moving it away from the high-energy event during Booster 9’s Static Fire campaign.
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Wednesday through Thursday night, the last water tanks for the new sprinkler system also arrived in Boca Chica. These tanks are part of a new tank farm built specifically for the new system. The tanks are filled with water and nitrogen, which is used to propel the raid system.
With this new system, and with both Ship 25 and Flood currently being tested, we’ll see if Booster 9 will soon be ready to pave the way for full-stack, wetsuit rehearsal and then Starship’s second flight. the coming weeks and months.
Since testing was only for half the time and multiple Raptor engines were not working properly, SpaceX will likely repeat Booster 9’s Static Fire in a few weeks to make sure the stage is working properly before flight testing. This becomes particularly likely if SpaceX decides to replace more than one Raptor engine from the flight candidate.
NASA’s Jim Free recently voiced program concerns regarding the Human Landing System (HLS) landing development that SpaceX is developing based on the Starship infrastructure. The HLS lander will need development of Starship tankers, a Starship orbital depot, and a modified landing Starship that is planned to take humans back to the Moon.
Currently, the mission is targeting late 2025, but it’s yet to be determined whether the mission will go as planned, as both the Starship and Astronaut suits are critical items. Free hinted at redesigning the third Artemis mission and moving the possible Moon landing to a later mission.
SpaceX plans to conduct a demo mission of the lander in the coming years to demonstrate the performance and reliability of the landing infrastructure to NASA.
Work also resumed on the Orbital Launch Mountain, and SpaceX began building work platforms and scaffolding after Booster 9 left the site. This may be related to inspections, or it may mean that some work still needs to be done on the launch platform before a rocket can fully support its second flight.
Alongside the flight stack below, SpaceX is doing well in its test campaigns of vehicles that can be used on the third flight and beyond. The Booster 10 and Ship 28, possibly the next flight stack, were freeze-tested at the Masseys test site.
Next up is the installation of Raptor engines, both to prepare for test campaigns on the Orbital Launch Mount for Booster 10 and suborbital test launchers for Ship 28 for Static Fires.
Ships 29 and 30 are also making good progress in High Bay, as Ship 29 is already at full height and 30 will join it very soon. SpaceX has yet to confirm in what order the ships can fly, and vehicles have been skipped in the past, but SpaceX can support a fast flight rhythm when the ramp can sustain a launch.
Regarding ground infrastructure, SpaceX is doing well with the major refurbishment of its production site in Boca Chica. The new Starfactory expansion, which will replace most of the existing tent infrastructure, has already begun and is slowly taking over the roof and wall segments.
The new Mega Bay is nearly complete structurally and the next step will be to equip the Bay with the cladding and necessary equipment to prepare the Bay as a future workstation for Super Heavy Booster operation.
(Main image: Removed from Booster 9 OLM / Jack Beyer).
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