Ship 25 is waiting for the full Starship Flight 2 collection to be released

Starship is approaching its second integrated flight test (IFT). Booster 9 has completed pre-flight testing and is now awaiting its partner for a second launch. Since the ship had already been tested 25 months ago, this leaves only the full stack testing and pending regulatory approval for the second voyage.

Booster 9

After the initial static launch of Booster 9 on Aug. 6 wasn’t entirely successful, SpaceX ran another fire on Aug. 25. During the first fire, four engines shut down prematurely, aborting the full steady fire after 2.74 seconds, outside the expected duration. Just under five seconds.

Immediately after the fire, SpaceX removed the booster from the OLM and returned it to the production site. After this step, the hot staging ring was installed. This 6-foot loop is a necessary extension to adjust the booster for hot grading of the upper stage. It features vents to release exhaust from the six engines located below the ship while the ship is still connected to the booster.

For hot staging, the Booster will still have three engines burning while the ship’s engines are already running to reduce in-flight gravity loss and solve other problems, such as upper-stage fuel deposition.

After installing the loop, the booster is thrown back. They now feature motor protection around the motors, protecting them during transit. This has not always been the case for engine transmissions in Boca Chica, and some engines have shown some major scratches in the past. While it is not clear if these scratches appeared during transportation, it is possible to mitigate these damages during transportation events.

The second fire, made on 25 August, appears to have been more successful than the first. According to SpaceX, all 33 of Booster’s engines ignited. No other steady fire from the Super Heavy was able to ignite all the engines. Two engines shut down shortly after ignition, with 31 engines completing the full duration of approximately five seconds.

The new Deluge system, the deflector plate, greatly affected the overall power quenching. In the footage from above, released by SpaceX, it can be seen that the fire and thrust are much less powerful when escaping the OLM than with the B7’s static fire. Besides some minor damage to the fixtures, such as the fence near the launch site, the overall area is in good condition after testing.

After this test, Booster conducted 9 high engine static fires, two initial spin tests, and three coolant resistance tests. That’s far fewer than the more than 20 tests performed on Booster 7, and shows how SpaceX has reduced the tests needed to validate vehicles. The craft is expected to be completed with a single-stage test campaign, and the next step is to stack the Vessel 25 on top of it.

upper stage condition

The ship has been 25 in Rocket Garden since it was brought back in preparation for the first steady fire from Booster 9. She made the first and only steady fire of all six Raptor engines on June 26, and most of the work on the ship was related to Thermal Protection Systems (TPS).

While the TPS system is essentially completed prior to the static firing campaign, the ship still has its associated crane hoisting points, which are necessary for placing and removing it to and from suborbital test stands. Since it was no longer needed, SpaceX began removing the lift points.

Workers finish work on Ship 25. (Credit: NSF/Sean Doherty)

Once the hoisting points have been removed, areas are filled in with TPS tiles, as holes or gaps in the heat shield will not allow the ship to survive the return heat. This process was accelerated once Booster 9 finished its beta campaign and has been completed ever since.

SpaceX has also added a company logo to the ship now, similar to how it was done with Ship 24. The serial number printed on the ship still needs to be added if SpaceX is to choose similar branding as Ship 24.

The next step for the ship is to transport the SPMTs back to the launch site and stack them on Booster 9 shortly thereafter. Cameron County still needs to list potential road closures for the transfer event, but the transfer is likely to happen late this week or early next week.

Based on Booster 9’s quick ramp-up time, stacking can be done in as little as 12 hours from the start of the initial rollout.

Once the assembly process is completed, it remains to be seen what a potential SpaceX test path will be.

A possible path is to conduct a rehearsal (WDR) to fully validate the ship, booster, ground infrastructure and countdown programme. During this, the vehicle will calculate up to T-10 seconds (in the case of Booster 7 and Ship 24 repeats) before canceling the simulated launch sequence.

This requires extensive safety measures, including a large flight-like methane payload. SpaceX must evacuate the village of Boca Chica and the surrounding area and implement a no-fly zone around the launch site.

Another less involved, but less demanding process is to perform a cool-down test of the entire stack. In this test, SpaceX will validate the integrity of the stack since it has moved a lot since the last tank.

SpaceX may do both tests, one of them, or none at all, depending on the needs and requirements it identifies itself. As of now, SpaceX still needs to communicate the possibilities.

organizational situation

While all of this would remove Starship from the hardware position for a second flight, there are still open questions regarding the regulatory parts of a second flight. The Federal Aviation Administration still needs to finish the investigation report on the spacecraft’s maiden flight.

Once approved, the FAA can decide whether it is safe for the spacecraft to fly again based on available documentation. Neither SpaceX nor the FAA have announced a timeline for this process, and it’s not clear whether it aligns with SpaceX’s hardware readiness for a second flight.

However, SpaceX has begun briefing the Seafarers’ Safety Board on a possible Starship flight on September 8th. This is not related to the FAA report and is likely a placeholder that SpaceX is hoping for at the moment.

Other restrictions, such as flight restrictions, have not yet been filled in. SpaceX will also notify Boca Chica residents in advance of a potential flight to conduct a pre-flight evacuation.

The second flight and beyond

If SpaceX makes the second flight in September, other vehicles may quickly follow, depending on damage to the launch site after the second flight.

Ship 28 and Booster 10 have already made progress in the construction and testing campaign, and if the flight does not destroy the launch site, another flight could be achieved this year from a hardware readiness standpoint.

(Main image: Booster 9 Static Fire. via Sean Doherty for NSF/L2)

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