Starship, OLM, and Mechazilla get thousands of upgrades in preparation for the 2nd orbital flight test, FAA holds approval, Starbase updates

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SpaceX shared the details of the upgrades that have been made on the road to Starship’s next orbital flight test in a report published on its website yesterday.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also chipped in on his social media platform X on this matter. “Thousands of upgrades to Starship & launchpad/Mechazilla,” Musk posted.

This update shares some intricate details of what exactly happened during the 1st Starship flight test. The factors that resulted in a rapid unscheduled disassembly (RUD) and the steps SpaceX has taken to mitigate the causes of multiple malfunctions.

Three SpaceX Super Heavy rocket prototypes (left) and four Starship prototypes (right) at Starbase, Texas.
Three SpaceX Super Heavy rocket prototypes (left) and four Starship prototypes (right) at Starbase, Texas. Credit: SpaceX / X.
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According to Elon Musk, the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) and Mechazilla also received major upgrades in addition to Starship itself. We’ve covered the OLM water deluge system upgrade in our previous reports. This was a much-needed upgrade as OLM received significant damage because of the Raptor engine fire in the first flight attempt.

Mechazilla is the Starship launch integration tower at Starbase, Texas. It’s built beside the OLM for static fire tests and actual flights for Starship and Super Heavy rocket boosters.

SpaceX shared the changes, upgrades, and preparations it has been making for the 2nd Starship launch but the update does not give a tentative timeline for the event. Here’s the press release in its entirety:

The first flight test of a fully integrated Starship and Super Heavy was a critical step in advancing the capabilities of the most powerful launch system ever developed. Starship’s first flight test provided numerous lessons learned that are directly contributing to several upgrades being made to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future Starship flights. This rapid iterative development approach has been the basis for all of SpaceX’s major innovative advancements, including Falcon, Dragon, and Starlink. SpaceX has led the investigation efforts following the flight with oversight from the FAA and participation from NASA and the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Starship and Super Heavy successfully lifted off for the first time on April 20, 2023 at 8:33 a.m. CT (13:33:09 UTC) from the orbital launch pad at Starbase in Texas. Starship climbed to a maximum altitude of ~39 km (24 mi) over the Gulf of Mexico. During ascent, the vehicle sustained fires from leaking propellant in the aft end of the Super Heavy booster, which eventually severed connection with the vehicle’s primary flight computer. This led to a loss of communications to the majority of booster engines and, ultimately, control of the vehicle. SpaceX has since implemented leak mitigations and improved testing on both engine and booster hardware. As an additional corrective action, SpaceX has significantly expanded Super Heavy’s pre-existing fire suppression system in order to mitigate against future engine bay fires.

The Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) automatically issued a destruct command, which fired all detonators as expected, after the vehicle deviated from the expected trajectory, lost altitude and began to tumble. After an unexpected delay following AFSS activation, Starship ultimately broke up 237.474 seconds after engine ignition. SpaceX has enhanced and requalified the AFSS to improve system reliability.

SpaceX is also implementing a full suite of system performance upgrades unrelated to any issues observed during the first flight test. For example, SpaceX has built and tested a hot-stage separation system, in which Starship’s second stage engines will ignite to push the ship away from the booster. Additionally, SpaceX has engineered a new electronic Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system for Super Heavy Raptor engines. Using fully electric motors, the new system has fewer potential points of failure and is significantly more energy efficient than traditional hydraulic systems.

SpaceX also made significant upgrades to the orbital launch mount and pad system in order to prevent a recurrence of the pad foundation failure observed during the first flight test. These upgrades include significant reinforcements to the pad foundation and the addition of a flame deflector, which SpaceX has successfully tested multiple times.

Testing development flight hardware in a flight environment is what enables our teams to quickly learn and execute design changes and hardware upgrades to improve the probability of success in the future. We learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems during Starship’s first flight test. Recursive improvement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable launch system capable of carrying satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, lunar, or Martian landing site

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Above photo: Starship 24 during the ascent as SpaceX loses communication to a majority of Raptor engines. Just a few engines can be seen firing and an anomaly can be observed as the engine bay catches fire (click/tap image to zoom in).
Above photo: Starship 24 during the ascent as SpaceX loses communication to a majority of Raptor engines. Just a few engines can be seen firing and an anomaly can be observed as the engine bay catches fire (click/tap image to zoom in). Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).

“Recursive improvement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable launch system capable of carrying satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, lunar, or Martian landing sites,” SpaceX wrote in a post on X.

Fully integrated Starship 25 and Booster 9 (B9) lifted onto the Orbital Launch Mount at Stabrbase, Texas.
Fully integrated Starship 25 and Booster 9 (B9) lifted onto the Orbital Launch Mount at Stabrbase, Texas. Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).
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The FAA Starship Investigation and Approval for Next Launch

According to Elon Musk, Starship is ready for its 2nd launch. The only hurdle in the middle is the approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It’s important to note that SpaceX has prepared Starship 25 and Booster 9 (B9) prototypes for the 2nd orbital flight test from Starbase, Texas.

The FAA asked SpaceX to make various changes to its hardware and equipment both to the vehicle and the launchpad. SpaceX apparently has complied with all the FAA requirements for upgrades and mitigation enhancements but it can still take from a few days or even weeks to get approval from the federal agency.

The FAA posted a press release on its website that it has closed its investigation probe into the first Starship orbital flight test failure. The FAA asked SapceX to take 63 corrective actions to avoid the mishap in the future.

“The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica,” the FAA stated.

“SpaceX must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and apply for and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next Starship launch,” the FAA further clarified its stance on the next Starship orbital flight test.

SpaceX is also making many changes at Starbase because of the Starship factory expansions as we covered in our last week’s report of this location. A lot of other developments have been taking place since then which have been covered in the following video by NASASpaceFlight.

Video: Starbase update as SpaceX prepares for the next Starship flight test.
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Stay tuned for future updates on Starship and SpaceX, Follow us on:
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Iqtidar Ali
Iqtidar Alihttp://www.teslaoracle.com
Iqtidar has been writing about Tesla, Elon Musk, and EVs for more than 3 years on XAutoWorld.com, 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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