SpaceX Gears Up For Third Starship Flight And Ships Rocket To Launch Site

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After an excitement filled orbital test flight in November, SpaceX is in no mood to wait as it is already transporting its rockets to the launch site. SpaceX’s rocket complex in Boca Chica, Texas, dubbed Starbase, features production, launch and test sites. Footage from local media shows that a Starship rocket booster and a second stage spacracraft have made their way to the launch site, with SpaceX celebrating the holiday season by decorating their transporters. While simply moving a rocket to a launch site is not indicative of any potential tests, it shows confidence in the vehicles and leaves the door open for a quick turnaround for Starship’s third test flight.

SpaceX Frees Up Starship Development Time After Building Water Deluge System At Site

SpaceX’s second Starship test flight in November came eight months after the first flight in April. This was a noticeable delay for a hardware rich company with several boosters already in production and in the final stages of assembly. The delay was due to SpaceX’s work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). While SpaceX finished the FAA’s regulatory clearance requirements quickly, the primary delay came because of the water deluge system.

The first Starship test flight in April had destroyed the launch pad as there was no fire suppression system to taper the thrust from the 33 Raptor 2 engines at the time of launch. As a result, the water deluge system had to be built and then evaluated by the FWS to ensure it did not violate any environmental conditions that were part of SpaceX’s launch site evaluation.

Immediately after the FWS gave the green signal, the second Starship test flight took off in November. This saw the rocket successfully take off without any engine failures. It also cleared the crucial point of stage separation, with the remainder of the test seeing both vehicles – the first stage rocket booster and the second stage spacecraft – lost during the flight.

A picture perfect Starship Super Heavy during the November test. Image: SpaceX

With the deluge system to protect the pad fully functional and compliant, SpaceX’s third Starship test flight should not take place as late as the second test did. True to form, the firm is transporting the booster and the ship to the launch site, and it has also started to test the second stage rocket. Before SpaceX clears a Starship rocket for a launch, it runs several tests. These involve evaluating its electrical systems, its fuel tanks and its engines to ensure there are no surprises at the time of launch.

On the front, SpaceX successfully conducted a spin prime test of the second stage Starship yesterday. This test checks the pumps on the rocket to ensure that they can inject fuel and oxidizer into the engines during later tests and at the time of launch. The next stage after a spin prime test is a static fire, which lights up the engines. If this is successful, then the rocket is ready for launch, provided that SpaceX is confident about its tanks and their ability to withstand fueling and pressurization.

At the same time, SpaceX is now transporting the Starship Super Heavy booster to the launch site. This is a positive development since it took the firm three months after the first test to first roll out the booster to the site for the second test flight. SpaceX’s November Starship test was notable for its delay, especially since Starship is NASA’s rocket of choice for the Artemis program and any long delays carry the risk of extending NASA’s timeline of landing the first humans on the Moon this millennia.

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