For the first time in more than six months, SpaceX has fully assembled both stages of its next-generation Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever.
Not even the time before. SpaceX has carried out three other demonstrations of the Starship ‘full stack’: once in August 2021 and again in February and March 2022. But earlier this year, SpaceX (or at least CEO Elon Musk) decided to give up on the stage of Starship Upper and Super. A heavy-duty prototype that had supported all three previous tests and at one point was considered a candidate for the rocket’s first orbital launch attempt. Booster 4 and Ship 20 have been delivered to a secret shipyard by June 2022.
Since then, SpaceX has already begun to test new favorites for the orbital debut of Starship: Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) and Starship 24 (S24). Almost exactly six months after the start of that busy testing phase, both prototypes have recently reached the point where SpaceX is confident enough in its progress to join the two for the most intensive phase of Starship testing yet.
After the failed abort attempt on October 11, SpaceX’s technical experts have ironed out some crucial kinks in the infrastructure for the first Starship located (almost) in the Boca Chica, Texas, orbital launch pad. As part of a cart-before-the-horse gamble made by CEO Elon Musk that saw SpaceX completely remove the legs from all recent Starship and Super Heavy prototypes in hope What will one day be able to take the steps of a rocket-sized building into mid-air, the company has built a launch tower ~145 meters (~475 ft) high and equipped with three giant robotic arms. Those two arms are identical and connected to each other, forming a kind of claw, which one day, flying around, could close the rocks to prevent the need to land on the legs. A simpler third arm turns and exits to connect the upper stage of the Starship to launch power, propellant and gas supplies.
The “chopsticks,” as they are known, have another, more important purpose: to bring the Starship’s rock collections down to the pad. Because of the firm connection to the tower with the foundation sunk deep in the wetlands of Boca Chica and the design suspended by a hook or jig to release the huge arms, they are far less susceptible to winds than the immense crane otherwise required to stack the Starship on top. of Super Heavy Sitting a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, storms and high winds are not exactly uncommon.
Around sunset on October 3rd, SpaceX was more successful in its third attempt and was able to move the weapons into place under the Ship 24. Hundred tons weighing or more (~220,000+ lb) and nine meters (~30 ft) wide and ~. 50 meters high (~165 ft) high, the Starship was then slowly raised about 80 meters (~250 ft) off the ground, over to Booster 7, and over 69 meters high (~225 ft) was first lowered. scene After nearly two hours of robotically elucidating their positions, the two star gradations were finally achieved together. With the weapons still attached to Ship 24, SpaceX crews were able to approach the rocket and prepare to connect the live disconnection arm to the Starship’s hub.
Since testing began in April and May 2022, Booster 7 and Ship 24 have each completed cryogenic tests, eight “spin-firsts” of some or all of their Raptor guns, and several static fires of the same engines. Recently, Ship 24 fired six Raptors, but apparently the successful test on September 8th was followed by more than a month of apparent repairs. Booster 7 recently completed a static fire that ignited a record seven of its 33 Raptor engines — offering an idea of how much space SpaceX still has to complete the Super Heavy test.
According to CEO Elon Musk, Booster 7 and Ship 24 will be Starship’s first full wet stack review (WDR) test in a row. Prototypes simultaneously loaded with about 5 thousand tons (~11M lb) of liquid oxygen and methane propel and launched through the countdown. The deflection under ignition and liftoff means that the WDR is more or less the same as the launch attempt.
If the wetsuit review goes ahead with the plan, SpaceX will then attempt to simultaneously fire all 33 Raptor engines installed on the Heavy B7, almost certainly making it the most liquid-powered rocket ever tested. Although all 33 guns never reached more than 60% of the maximum thrust of 230 tons (~510,000 lbf), they would probably eclipse the Soviet N-1 rocket’s record of 4500 tons thrust (~10M lbf) at sea level. It would also be the most rocket engine fired at one time on a vehicle. SpaceX will push the envelope in several ways, and success is far from guaranteed.
It is unclear if SpaceX will immediately test a full review suit or a statically wet 33 engine. Based on the history of Ship 24 and Booster 7 testing, it would be a departure from the norm if the company did not gradually build up to both major milestones with smaller tests in between. At the very least, if WDR testing is completed without major issues, SpaceX will likely try at least one or more static fires with fewer than 33 devices in the interim before attempting the first full test.
If both milestones (full WDR fire and 33 engine static) are completed without a significant event, it is possible that SpaceX could move directly into the preparation of the first launch orbit of the Starship without trying to stabilize the rocket. Into the salad some questions arise and some repairs are required, the track will be more circular but the orbital effort should still be completed this year or early next.
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