After a few more weeks of shutdown, SpaceX simultaneously tested the first prototype orbital-class spacecraft and a Frankenstein-style “test tank” at its South Texas facility. While nothing that happened was visually spectacular, the afternoon of testing was still remarkable for several reasons.
First, after a successful static shot of the Six-Engine Raptor – the first in Starbase history – on November 12, all signs were that the S20 ship was attempting another static shot (its fourth) on the 1st. December. In the nearly three weeks of inactivity between these scheduled tests, SpaceX likely performed extensive inspections of the Scout prototype and its Raptor engines. Technicians also repaired minor heat shield damage and slab loss from testing and plugged a few other “holes”, leaving Vessel 20 with the first heat shield fully completed by the end of November.
Earlier this week, one of the few residents of Boca Chica Village received a safety advisory from SpaceX indicating that a static fire test was scheduled for Wednesday, December 1 – followed shortly thereafter by a Notice to Mariners (NOTAM ) warning boaters to respect a Safety Distance. Two hours after the start of the 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CST test window, the Starship S20 was already ventilating and starting to freeze, confirming that the thruster charging had started. Just over an hour later, it was clear SpaceX had aborted the first static fire attempt of the day. Over the next three hours, Vessel 20 exhibited unusual behavior, including new vents, an apparent collector tank pressurization or fill test, and even more odd ventilation in new locations.
Amid the bizarre tests related to Starship’s nose, SpaceX began to simultaneously charge a new “test tank” known as B2.1 with liquid nitrogen (LN2) – marking the first truly simultaneous test of several Starship test articles. While vessel 20 was apparently demerged for the second time that day, tank B2.1 was fully loaded with LN2 and apparently pressure tested shortly thereafter. A few hours later, the test tank was also unloaded and the road to the platform was reopened, marking the end of the test day.
Normally, nothing is particularly unusual or noteworthy about the test cuvette tests. Since January 2020, SpaceX has regularly built and tested tanks that are in fact just shorter versions of the actual tanks and hardware, using them to qualify changes to Starship’s design, materials, operations and more. before applying these modifications to full-size prototypes. B2.1 is the tenth dedicated test tank to reach the launch pad in just under two years.
Normally, the name “B2.1” that SpaceX gave the tank would imply that it is a new boost test tank (using Bx instead of BNx) following in the footsteps of BN2.1, which has successfully passed cryogenic and charge tests this summer. Instead, however, B2.1 is a bit of a nightmarish, seemingly random Starship merger. and Super heavy parts. Its front dome is an old unused booster section with the hexagonal structure grille fins that would have leaned against. Its rear section is a booster push structure. So far, it’s actually just a copy of BN2.1.
However, SpaceX inexplicably installed a Vessel thrust dome inside the B2.1 booster thrust structure, creating a test tank of no obvious relevance to any imaginable spacecraft or super-heavy design or prototype. Additionally, SpaceX transported B2.1 to the launch site for testing only after installing it on an unused device that would be the back half of a dedicated booster structural test bed. In theory, some sort of “cap” would be installed on a booster or test tank installed in the base of the stand and strong cables would connect the two, allowing SpaceX to subject the prototypes to compressive stress – like, can. To be, a booster’s forces could experience it by transporting a fully fueled 1,300-ton spacecraft into space. The top half of this test structure has yet to be moved to the launch site.
Overall, the odd half-full test bed and bizarre fusion of ship and thruster parts make B2.1’s purpose and initial testing a complete mystery. It’s unclear what value it provides which makes it more of a priority than, say, finally starting to test the first Super Heavy (B4) booster in flight condition. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about B2.1’s testing debut is the fact that it appears to mark the first use of Starbase’s brand new orbital tank farm, which is almost complete.