Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pad B Starts to Rise As Booster 12 Static Fire nears

SpaceX preparations for flight 5 of Starship continue to focus on replacing Ship 30’s heat shield as teams prepare for Booster 12 to roll out for a static fire this upcoming week. Meanwhile, long-term planning centers around Pad B construction at the launch site.

Orbital Launch Pad B

SpaceX is building Orbital Launch Pad (OLP) B, as teams have rolled out Tower Module 1 to the Launch Site.

However, this is yet to be stacked as teams work to prepare the corner adaptors. With Hurricane Beryl currently threatening the region, teams have also laid down the CC8800-1 to protect it from the storm.

Orbital Launch Pad B and Tower Module 1 (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

SpaceX is also taking a different approach with this tower regarding how the base is designed and stacked compared to the original tower next door. SpaceX built an all-concrete and rebar base with the first tower before adding steel plating after Flight 2. Pad B will be a hollow steel structure filled with concrete, giving it the strength needed and protection from exhaust during launches.

Another change is that teams added the commodities lines and cryogenic propellant lines inside the modules at Sanchez before the modules were rolled and stacked at the Launch Site.

Currently, SpaceX is only missing two towers at Sanchez. These are now at the Port of Brownsville awaiting transport to Sanchez, along with the chopstick arms and carriage from Florida.

During Tim Dodd’s Starbase Tour, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk mentioned that this tower would be taller than the one currently at Pad A. However, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documentation, SpaceX wants to get this tower stacked by mid-August. So far, no additional tower columns have shown up, so it seems unlikely.

Ship 31 Cryo Tested (Again)

After being inside the High Bay for about seven weeks following a small explosion and electrical fire in its raceway, Ship 31 was rolled back out to Masseys to complete its cryo testing. During the rollout, it appears SpaceX replaced the raceway as a whole and repaired any other damage caused by the anomaly.

Ship 31 at Masseys (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

Once at Masseys, Ship 31 will complete two cryo tests, including testing of the new Liquid Oxygen Valve that is on these later ships. With Hurricane Beryl on the way, SpaceX will most likely roll Ship 31 back to the High Bay before a possible landfall to protect the ship.

Based on past ship readiness, Ship 31 could be ready for static fire testing within two to three months. After that, SpaceX may still replace its entire heat shield, as is being done with Ship 30. If that is the case, Ship 31 may not be ready to fly until October or November of this year at the earliest.

Booster 12 possible rollout and Static Fire

Booster 12, which has been in Mega Bay 1 since Jan 23, is possibly set to roll out to the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) as early as July 8 or 9. However, depending on Hurricane Beryl, this could be pushed back a few days if Highway 4 is flooded.

Along with intermittent closures, SpaceX has requested testing closures for July 9, 10, and 11. All three are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This rollout would involve Booster 12 performing a 33-engine static fire and probably rolling back while it waits for its other half to be ready for full-stack testing. SpaceX most likely won’t place the Hot Stage Ring on Booster 12 for a static fire rollout and instead will use the new white booster cap to help keep the forward dome clean and covered.

Ship 30 Heat shield work

Over the last few weeks, SpaceX has been replacing Ship 30’s heat shield and adding new ablative material and stronger tiles. So far, it appears the tank sections of the ship will now have four layers of material. The flaps are also receiving the Pyron material.

Ship 30 Tile Work (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

First is what looks like Pyron, a carbon fiber material that will act as an ablative layer over the primary structure in case the primary heat shield, the tiles, fails. The next two layers are the felt blankets and mesh material that have already been part of the heat shield up to this point. These provide insulation and a stabilizing material to make it easier to place the tiles on the pins. Finally, the primary heat shield is the tiles.

So far, the newer tiles don’t appear to have any noticeable visual changes and work the same way as the older ones. With this upgrade, SpaceX can lose tiles on the ship but have a backup layer to ensure the ship makes it through reentry.

Along with Pyron being added, teams have added new types of gap filler to tiles on the nosecone and the flaps. What appears to be stainless steel tape and a blue RTV silicone adhesive have been added to fill some of the gaps. RTV is room-temperature vulcanizing silicone. It cures at room temperature and, depending on the mixture, can withstand temperatures up to 650 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ship 30 Nose Cone Tile Work (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

SpaceX still has a ways to go to finish Ship 30’s heat shield, and once it is done, it needs to be transported to Masseys on the new static fire stand to test the new Raptor Vacuum engine that was installed.

Orbital Launch Pad A

At the launch site, SpaceX have removed all of the old vertical tanks from the Orbital Tank Farm (OTF). SpaceX had already fully switched over to the horizontal tanks for Flight 4.

SpaceX has two new Liquid Methane Tanks, which are currently being stored at Sanchez. These may be moved into the open space to increase capacity since SpaceX plans to tie this tank farm into OLP B once the tower and mount are completed.

Orbital Launch Site now missing the old vertical tanks (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

SpaceX has also been steadily repairing the OLP A and upgrading the chopsticks in preparation for a catch on Flight 5. Teams have also been working on the Ship’s Quick Disconnect (QD) arm as one of the main propellant lines was replaced.

Teams still have work to do to prepare for Flight 5 regarding the OLP and both vehicles, but it looks like Flight 5 will not happen until around mid-August or possibly September.

Lead Image: Tower Module 1 Waiting to Be Stacked (Credit: Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

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