Within 15 hours, SpaceX launched a new spacecraft from its South Texas Launch and Test Facility, reassembled the world’s largest rocket, launched Starlink satellites into orbit and retrieved a repurposed Falcon 9 booster from the port.
The burst of activity began around sunset at SpaceX’s Starbase rocket factory in Boca Chica, Texas, when a new prototype orbital-class spacecraft left its “nest” for the first time. . SpaceX rolled the Starship – known as Ship 25 – a few miles down the highway to its nearby launch and test facility, where workers hooked it up to a large crane and waited daylight.
Around 9 a.m. CDT the next day, Oct. 20, SpaceX lifted Ship 25 onto one of Starship’s two test beds, where it will eventually attempt to complete several qualification tests. While Ship 25 was still suspended in the air, the Starbase launchpad’s orbital launch tower began lifting a different prototype, Ship 24, into the air with a pair of giant “wands” – mechanical arms designed by SpaceX to replace one of the largest mobile cranes in the world.
Then, while stacking Starship 24 on Super Heavy Booster 7 and setting up Starship 25 on a test bed, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 54 new Starlink satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Minutes earlier, SpaceX had finished launching a repurposed Falcon 9 booster onto one of its drone landing pads at a port ten miles to the south.
Starlink 4-36 was SpaceX’s 48th launch of 2022 and the 56th launch in less than 12 months, so its Falcon launch program just has no time to waste. The Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone returned to port with Falcon 9 booster B1069 about 12 hours before the rocket was transferred from the ship’s deck to a stand on SpaceX’s dock in Port Canaveral. The company will now be able to retract the B1069’s legs and complete any necessary booster and drone refurbishments, ensuring both will be ready for their next missions in the near future.
Back in Texas, SpaceX is set to begin deep testing a fully stacked Starship rocket for the first time as early as Monday, October 24. Ship 24 was relocated to Booster 7 for this purpose after SpaceX took the pair apart for several days, possibly due to high wind forecasts. The test campaign is set to begin with the first wet dress rehearsal (WDR) of a two-stage spacecraft, meaning the rocket will be fully loaded with thousands of tons of liquid methane and oxygen propellant and follow a simulated launch countdown that ends just before engine ignition.
If successful, SpaceX will likely restart Booster 7 static fire tests and continue to progress through the first simultaneous firing of its 33 Raptor 2 engines. If the pair survive WDR and static fire tests, SpaceX could begin preparing the same rocket for Starship’s orbital launch debut.
If significant issues arise during testing, SpaceX may choose to retire ship 24 and/or booster 7 and switch to a new and improved pair: likely ship 25 and booster 8 or 9. Already done, Super Heavy Booster 8 sat untouched at Starbase’s launch site for weeks, making it unclear if SpaceX actually intends to test or use the prototype. Booster 9 is only one stack away from completion, at which point it will be ready to begin proof testing. According to CEO Elon Musk, the features of the B9 significant improvements which will make it more resistant to Raptor engine failures in mid-flight. It could also be the first Super Heavy booster without hydraulics, thanks to a new version of Raptor that replaces hydraulic thrust vectoring with a battery-powered alternative.
Starship S25 could launch its own proof tests as early as next week. Unlike Vessel 24, Vessel 25 went straight from the factory to a test rig that was modified with six hydraulic jacks. These actuators will simulate the thrust of six Raptor 2 engines (up to ~1400 tons or 3.1 M lbf) while the Starship is simultaneously loaded with cryogenic liquid oxygen and/or nitrogen, combining the maximum mechanical and thermal stresses in a single test. Once Ship 25 is complete, it will be taken back to the factory for Raptor engine installation and eventually return to the pad for static fire tests.
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