We are now just a few days away from the next test of Starship, particularly the ignition of all 33 Raptor engines of Booster 7. Everything suggests that the next test should take place next week, but only after the finishing touches will be settled up. There is a lot of activity at Starbase, many teams are working on various fronts. Even Elon Musk has been visiting the company’s launch site these days to supervise in anticipation of the upcoming static fire tests.
Preparations before the test
Since the beginning of the year, at Starbase, we have seen many advances. In particular, the Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) test was performed on Jan. 23rd, which saw the full loading of propellants in both Ship 24 and Booster 7. It was also crucial to test the weight supported by the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM): in the days leading, the SpaceX team performed a special proof to ascertain the weight supported.
A key part of loading the propellants was the initiation of all launch sequences up to the step before the engine’s ignition. This test, as confirmed directly by SpaceX, was successful, it is now important for SpaceX to analyze what happened and proceed with the rest of the tests.
After the WDR test, Ship 24 was removed from Booster 7 and taken back to the production site. In fact, S24 must also be prepared for the future orbital flight: at the moment multiple things are missing, such as the Flight Termination System (FTS) or some Thermal protection system (TPS) tiles, that SpaceX is putting in place these days the spots where the Starship’s lift attachment points were previously mounted.
Starship 24 is having its lifting points removed! Seems like we could be getting into final launch preparations. @NASASpaceflight— Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) January 28, 2023
Get caught up on Ship 24’s latest milestones and more here: https://t.co/1mKQoqbXL2 pic.twitter.com/LTUFUq5Zjs
A lot of work is currently being done on B7 and the orbital pad, old and obsolete parts have to be replaced before testing can progress. In the previous days, three Raptor engines have been swapped underneath Booster 7, but it is possible that others will be replaced in the next few days.
There are other parallel works that are going on, but which seem non-essential and not planned to be completed before the complete static fire. Firstly, we spotted the piping and the place where the water deluge system should be installed, suppress noise, vibrations, and flames emitted by the engines. Secondly, work continues to protect the tank farm with a wall surrounding it, and various covers to protect the launch tower and the OLM.
What will surely await us is a spin prime test and a static fire of only the replaced engines. It is unclear whether they will then directly perform a test altogether, or first proceed in smaller groups of Engines.
We should hopefully see in the next few days the announcement of the road closures and evacuation of the area, then, as always, about ten minutes before the test we should hear the siren warning. Road closures are currently scheduled for Wednesday 8, Thursday 9, and Friday 10 of this month, but may change in the coming days. We should not be surprised if there are multiple scrubs, especially with such a delicate test. We can only imagine what it will be like: unforeseen events could occur, as we have seen in the past when fires started in the area after testing.
After the test, we should expect many inspections and checks on both the OLM and Booster 7. Once the inspections will be over, they will probably continue to perform other several tests, in order to arrive at the first orbital flight without any surprises.
If SpaceX succeeds with the static fire test, it will have reached another milestone, having fired up the largest rocket ever built by mankind. However, the clock is ticking: NASA will keep a close eye on everything, as it is in its own interests to make Starship a success for the next Artemis Lunar Missions.