After the major Super Heavy Booster 7 static fire test earlier this month, there has been a series of small developments taking place at Starbase. These happenings are a prelude to the 1st orbital flight test strongly expected to happen in March.
We will discuss these happenings one by one which are mostly related to Starship 26, new work done on the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM), Super Heavy Booster 7 spin prime test, StarFactory, and more updates.
As far as the probability of Starship’s 1st orbital flight test is concerned, the major hurdle in the way is a pending license by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But according to Christian Davenport, a space reporter for The Washington Post, all is fine as far as the FAA approval is concerned.
Gary Henry, who is the Sr. Director of National Security Space Solutions at SpaceX also confirmed at the Space Mobility Conference that both Starship 24 and Booster 7 are in good shape after the intense static fire test, SpaceNews reported.
“We had a successful hot fire, and that was really the last box to check, The vehicle is in good shape. The pad is in good shape,” Gary said.
Starship 26 (or Ship 26 in short) was transported to the launch site on Monday to be lifted onto Pad A. Now Ship 26 is mounted next to Ship 25 which is already residing on the adjacent Pad B at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas.
Interestingly, Starship 26 does not have any front or aft flaps installed and the heat shield TPS tiles are also missing on it. This raised the question of what purpose does Ship 26 serve?
According to Jack Beyer of NASASpaceFlight, Ship 26 is perhaps going to be used as a propellant depot or for fuel tanker testing. It is most probably a test vehicle that’s used for validation without the need for flaps.
On Tuesday, SpaceX conducted a cryogenic pressure-proof test on the Starship 26 prototype.
StarFactory, Bays, and Transfer Tube
In the Starbase update video by NASASpaceFlight (below), we can witness that there are multiple 5-ring barrels standing in the StarFactory. These barrels are actually Starship payload sections most probably built for upcoming Starship prototypes.
In the bays next to the Starbase factory, the nosecone and payload section of Starship 27 are parked. These two giant objects are waiting to be stacked in the High Bay later on.
A giant booster transfer tube that failed during an early test on Booster 7 is still laying outside the StarFactory for a few weeks now. This massive transfer tube transfers methane inside the rocket booster from the methane tank making its path around the liquid oxygen (LOX) tanks to the engines.
Orbital Launch Mount Blast Shields
Against expectations, not much damage to the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) was incurred after the 31-engine static fire test earlier this month. Just some scorching due to the extreme heat due to the firing of the Raptor engines but it was nothing like a crater.
SpaceX employees have since been constantly working on the OLM to improve heat and thrust protection for this giant structure. SpaceX is now installing blast shields on the OLM staircase and the mount’s circle around the booster aft area.
These blast shields will protect the mount in the event of engine firings either during static fire tests or during an actual launch.
To work under the OLM, SpaceX uses a vertically hanging platform that moves up and down to let workers perform their tasks on various heights. SpaceX fans informally refer to this hanging deck as the Dance Floor (can be seen in the video below).
According to Jack Beyer, the Starship Orbital Launch Mount at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas is still in a skeletal shape and will look quite different when it is completed.
Booster 7 Spin Prime Test and the Hydraulic Power Unit
SpaceX performed a spin prime test on the Super Heavy Booster 7 with a single Raptor engine last week. This engine most probably was the one that did not fire during the major static fire test, so a new round of testing was needed.
After the 31-engine static fire event, SpaceX workers removed a hydraulic power unit (HPU) from Booster 7. A replacement HPU was also installed last week. The 2nd HPU on the other side of the rocket booster was removed though, perhaps also to be replaced next.
A hydraulic power unit provides hydraulic pressure to Raptor engine thrust vector control actuators. HPUs are necessary to control the movement and direction of the gimbal engines on a rocket booster.
However, SpaceX plans to retire the hydraulic power units in favor of electrically actuated thrust vector control. Super Heavy prototypes starting from Booster 9 and beyond will have these new electrical actuators.
Huge Water Deluge Manifold
A huge deluge manifold is brought to Starbase, Texas from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. These big plumbing pipes will be used as part of the water deluge system for Starship launches to cool down the OLM from Raptor engine fires.
There is some groundwork underway at the Starbase Orbital Launch Site and this new water deluge manifold would be installed after this work is completed.
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