Starship Quick Disconnect Arm, Chopsticks, heat tiles, a lot is happening at Starbase



SpaceX activities at Starbase, Texas have significantly accelerated the Starship program. The company lifted and installed the Starship Quick Disconnect (QD) arm to the orbital launch tower at the end of last month. Now an extension of this QD arm has been built and moved to the launch site.

As of this writing, the QD arm extension has been lifted to the launch tower at Starbase, and looks like SpaceX is ready to install the extension to the QD arm today.

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described the functionality of the QD arm in the 2nd part of Tim Dodd’s Starbase documentary. Musk said that the Quick Disconnect arm will hold and stabilize Starship above the Super Heavy rocket booster stacked on the launch mount. The QD arm will also be used to transport propellant to Starship just before the launch.

When SpaceX stacked Starship SN20 onto the Booster 4 rocket for the first time in early August 2021, the big crane (Kong) was used to hold and keep the Starship stabilized till it was destacked minutes later.

SpaceX is currently working on multiple things at Starbase Boca Chica Texas and one of them is constantly installing and replacing the Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster 4 prototype rocket. The company also loaded Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) into the Orbital Tank Farm for the first time earlier this Monday.

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Integration Towers and the Chopsticks

Concept render of the SpaceX Integration Tower, Launch Mount, Super Heavy, and Starship fully stacked.
Figure 1: Concept render of the SpaceX Integration Tower, Launch Mount, Super Heavy, and Starship fully stacked. Credits: SpaceX via FAA Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA).

Integration Towers

SpaceX is proposing to construct two permanent integration towers to integrate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle. Each tower would be approximately 480 feet tall with a 10-foot lightning rod on top and include black cladding. SpaceX would construct one integration tower adjacent to Pad A and another adjacent to proposed Pad B.

The launch vehicle would be integrated vertically on the launch pad. Super Heavy would be mated to the launch mount, followed by Starship mated to Super Heavy. Figure 1 above shows an integration tower and Starship/Super Heavy on a launch mount. Until the integration towers are constructed and operational, SpaceX would use a 450-foot-tall crane to integrate Starship/Super Heavy. SpaceX would store the crane in the northwest section of the VLA when not in use.

The crane would stay up most of the time and would be lowered to approximately 250 feet during launches. Following the construction of the integration towers, the crane would remain at the VLA and would be u ed to move large articles, such as vehicles and tanks.

Source: Excerpt from the SpaceX FAA PEA Draft

Elon Musk has hinted earlier that SpaceX will attempt to catch the Super Heavy rocket booster with robot chopsticks installed on its Starbase launch towers (aka integration towers).

SpaceX Starship Chopsticks design diagram.
Figure 2: SpaceX Starship Chopsticks design diagram. Credits: SpaceX / @THERKTMAN / Twitter.
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Next Starbase Update: Mechazilla Chopsticks, Raptor vacuum on SN20, SN21 heat tiles on the nosecone, more

Like always, it wasn’t just a funny tweet, Elon Musk was serious as SpaceX employees have been spotted working on these metal chopstick arms at Starbase. The Chopsticks were even seen at the launch site entrance last week in the following photos taken by the local observer Starship Gazer / Twitter.

Starship Heat Tiles

Looking at the most recent photos of the Starship SN20 (aka Ship 20) from this morning, the thermal protection system (TPS / heat shield) tiles installation seems almost complete. In our last Starship update earlier this month, there were still several tiles remaining to be installed. Now, it looks like only a few are remaining at the nosecone area around the latches.

Official render of Starbase submitted to the FAA by SpaceX.
Official render of Starbase submitted to the FAA by SpaceX. Two Integration Towers (center) with two Starships fully stacked above the Super Heavey rocket booster. Retouched by @ErcXspace / Twitter.

Related: Starship SN20 passes the cryogenic pressure test

Video: Starship Quick Disconnect arm moved to the SpaceX Starbase Boca Chica, Texas launch site.


Iqtidar Ali
Iqtidar Ali
Iqtidar has been writing about Tesla, Elon Musk, and EVs for more than 3 years on, many of his articles have been republished on CleanTechnica and InsideEVs, maintains a healthy relationship with the Tesla community across the Social Media sphere. You can reach him on Twitter @IqtidarAlii

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