Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) stacked the Starship 24 (SN24) onto the Super Heavy Booster 7 today. This is most probably the last time SpaceX is attempting a full-stack Starship before the first orbital flight test expected in November.
Starship 24 mated with Booster 7 prototypes are the main candidate for the first-ever orbital flight test on a Starship spaceship. However, SpaceX has already prepared the next candidates Starship 25 and Booster 8 &9 for the consecutive tests.
Last month, SpaceX CEO and Chief Engineer Elon Musk said that by November they will have two ships and boosters ready for the orbital flight test. The expected Starship + Super Heavy (full stack) production rate after this will be one full stack Starship every two months, according to Musk.
SpaceX started preparations for fully stacking the Starship last week. The repair and replacement work on the heat shield tiles of SN24 began on Friday and was intermittently carried out during the entire weekend.
These heat tiles are part of the thermal protection system (TPS) installed to shield Starship from overheating and catching fire on re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on its way back from orbit.
Starship SN20 was the first prototype to have the heat shield tiles installed last year. When SpaceX performed a cryogenic proof test on SN20, some of the heat tiles fell off. Since then, SpaceX has improved the design and installation process of the heat tiles and a similar incident never re-occurred.
Yesterday, SpaceX lifted and mounted Booster 7 onto the Starbase orbital launch mount. Before mounting Booster 7, SpaceX moved a Raptor engine under the launch mount and placed it in the center with the help of a transport stand. This Raptor engine was wrapped in some kind of cloth and stayed there until Booster 7 was mounted (watch below).
When Booster 7 was lifted to be placed onto the launch mount, it had all of its outer circle Raptor engines already installed. The one placed under the launch mount was the single Raptor that was later unwrapped, lifted, and installed in the aft center of the Super Heavy Booster 7. After the installation test, this Raptor engine was shifted back to the Starbase production site.
SpaceX posted some stunning photo sequences of the process of fully stacking Starship onto Booster 7 on Twitter. If this is the last stacking of Ship 24, there are still several tests left before the estimated 1st orbital launch in November.
Some heat tiles are also missing in the nosecone area where a payload door has been designed to load Starlink satellites. However, this door has been closed and welded and there is no evidence of Starlinks being stacked inside.
Let’s watch the footage and listen to the interesting commentary by the NasaSpaceFlight team on this event in the following video.