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Even as it waits for the FAA and FWS to work together for the environmental review of the Starship launch pad, SpaceX is moving ahead with tests of the rocket that should fly if it secures approval. The Starship stack for the second orbital test flight has been at the launch pad for quite some time, and SpaceX has conducted engine tests on the rocket and stacked and de-stacked the first and second stages of the launch vehicle. Now, it looks like the focus is on the rocket’s tanks after a static fire of the 33 engines of the Super Heavy booster in August, and footage from local media shows that Tuesday was an eventful day at the Starship launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas.
SpaceX Starts Starship Super Heavy And Second Stage With Propellants As Part Of Tests For Potential Second Orbital Test Flight
After a water deluge test that appeared more powerful than earlier ones, SpaceX is focusing on loading Starship’s first and second stages with propellants. This is the first time that fuel and liquid oxygen have been loaded on the rockets at the pad at such a scale for the second stack, and if anything, it signals intent to move forward with a second test flight. Even though SpaceX would have loved to have seen Starship make its second try to orbit right now, the rocket’s time at the pad provides ample opportunity to test the rocket and ensure that everything is in working condition at launch.
Filling the tanks up with propellants, often part of a series of tests dubbed as a wet dress rehearsal, is one of the few steps before a test rocket can be cleared for launch. Launching a rocket that is Starship’s size is not easy, and while often overlooked, the launch pad is an equally important part of the process as the rocket itself.
Starship represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond pic.twitter.com/lNZY0isCMV
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 15, 2023
A fully loaded Starship carries a whopping 4,600 tons of propellant, and gauging by the launch pad tower, it appears that SpaceX fully loaded the first and second stages with fuel as part of what can only be described as a wet dress rehearsal. Starship is one of the most unique rocket designs in the world since it is also designed to act as a propellant depot in orbit.
This depot is a central component of SpaceX’s plans to make the Starship second stage a workhorse for NASA’s Artemis program. The second stage will carry astronauts to the lunar surface, and to launch Starship to the Moon, SpaceX plans to fuel it in orbit. This boosts Starship’s range since the rocket can compensate for the fuel lost during the first stage of its journey by refilling itself in space.
Since fuelling a second stage is crucial for both the propellant depot and the standard Starship variant, today’s test is crucial to show that the rocket and its launch pad can handle any operational missions and that the tanks are up to specification.
SpaceX finished propellant loading of the first and second stage Starship at roughly 2:55 p.m. local time, and a couple of minutes later, venting from below the rocket revealed that teams had also chilled the rocket’s engines. Chilling the engines is another crucial step before launch since the extremely cold propellants risk damaging them if the methane and liquid oxygen flow through them without preparation.
SpaceX also tested the Super Heavy booster’s fire extinguishing system close to the half-an-hour mark after the tanks were filled with methane and liquid oxygen. This system is one of the most extensive upgrades to Starship after the first test flight in April. SpaceX also introduced several changes to the fire suppression system after multiple uncontrolled engine fires during the first Starship orbital test flight, along with a new hot staging ring and engine upgrades.