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SpaceX's Starship Progress and Upcoming Launch

Aerial view of Ship 25 (Image credit: MarcS24-058)

SpaceX is on the brink of another Starship and Super Heavy launch, marking the second attempt following the dramatic explosion on April 20th. This time, success is more clearly defined: they aim to reach space.

In August, SpaceX unveiled an innovative version of the Super Heavy booster, featuring an added hot-staging ring. All that remains now are the final tests and securing approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the launch can proceed. Let's dive into the details of SpaceX's August progress.

The Challenge of Igniting All 33 Raptors

One significant achievement in August was SpaceX's ability to ignite all 33 Raptor engines during the second static fire test of Booster 9, which took place on August 25th. However, it was a partial success as two Raptors shut down shortly after ignition, leaving 31 engines active for about five seconds. The exact cause of this early shutdown remains a mystery, but SpaceX appears equipped to address the issue while keeping the booster on the launch pad. During the test, Super Heavy generated an astonishing 3600 tons of thrust, nearly matching a Saturn V. With its full capability, SpaceX's booster can produce 7590 tons of thrust, indicating they utilised only around 50% for the test, possibly to safeguard the launch pad's base, despite the use of the Water Deluge System.

The initial attempt to ignite all 33 Raptor engines on Booster 9 happened on August 6th, encountering more significant issues, with four engines failing to start, prompting an early test termination. Subsequently, the prototype returned to the Mega Bay, where workers installed the hot-staging ring, increasing Super Heavy's height to about 71.3 meters.

During the booster's absence from the launch pad, SpaceX also tested the 20 Quick Disconnect Arms for the external Raptors, which are responsible for their ignition. These arms could have contributed to the previous engine initiation problems. Additionally, they tested the Water Deluge System, which appeared effective in safeguarding the launch pad's base. Booster 9 returned to the launch site on August 22nd.

Hot-Staging Ring

Before installing the hot-staging ring on Booster 9, SpaceX conducted tests at the Massey site. A small tank was used for the test, followed by a specialised machine with cables to simulate the forces acting on the ring. The successful test allowed SpaceX to proceed with the installation, which took place on August 19th.

Official images released by the company provided an intricate look at the structure of the new ring. The holes on its outer surface are strategically positioned to allow exhaust gases from the Starship's engines to vent.

The ring also boasts a dome designed to protect the upper section of Super Heavy. Inside the dome are the methane tank dome and the engines responsible for the rotation of the four grid fins for reentry control. The top of the new ring is flat, providing space for the three central Raptors of the Starship. The entire structure features reinforcements to withstand the loads and forces generated during flight.

hot staging
A view of the hot staging ring (Credit: SpaceX)

Ship 25

On August 6th, Ship 25, slated to partner with Booster 9 for the upcoming launch, was transported to the construction site and placed in the Rocket Garden. Ship 25 bears striking similarities to Ship 24, used in the April 20th flight, with one notable addition: small holes were drilled at its base, likely to facilitate the release of exhaust gases from the engines.

Towards the end of August, workers began removing the hooks used for crane-assisted lifting of the prototype to complete the thermal shield on the upper section. They also applied SpaceX's logo and two inscriptions with the designation "S25."

With this Starship, only one static fire test was conducted on June 27th, successfully initiating all six Raptors. SpaceX may now have sufficient confidence in this prototype, eliminating the need for further testing before launch.

On September 5th, SpaceX once again returned Ship 25 to the launch site, raising it to join Booster 9 for the first time, a crucial step for conducting final tests.

When Will the Launch Occur?

While an official launch date has yet to be announced, it could potentially take place by the end of the month, as several indicators suggest that the event is imminent.

On September 1st, a shipment of explosives arrived at Starbase, intended for installation in the Flight Termination System (FTS). This system's role is to destroy the prototypes in case of abnormal behavior during flight. Following the first launch, SpaceX made modifications to the FTS as its activation and subsequent destruction of the prototypes took longer than expected.

SpaceX also needs to conduct a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR), which involves all the operations leading up to the rocket's launch without igniting the engines. During the WDR, Starship and Super Heavy will be fully loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid methane, requiring at least three days to refill the tanks from the ground afterward.

Finally, the issuance of permits by the Federal Aviation Administration remains uncertain, as no information has been provided thus far. The latest navigational warnings indicate possible space activities from September 8th to September 13th, although it's unlikely that Starship and Super Heavy will launch during this period due to the pending tests and preparations.

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