SpaceX’s first two Super Heavy boosters progress well towards early testing

SpaceX is making good progress on Starship’s first two Super Heavy boosters, both of which could be ready for their first major test campaigns before the end of the year.

On November 19, some ten weeks after the process began, SpaceX lifted the Super Heavy B5’s methane tank (LCH4) above its oxygen tank (LOx), marking the end of major structural assembly. of the 69 m (~ 225 “) booster. A team of welders have since worked tirelessly to weld the two tanks together and complete a transfer tube that carries the methane propellant through the B5 oxygen tank.

Two days earlier, CEO Elon Musk shared a photo of SpaceX’s other Super Heavy booster (B4) that has been slowly progressing towards test readiness for more than three months. It’s unclear why SpaceX has been so slow to get Super Heavy B4 ready for testing, but with B5 finally approaching the finish line, the company will soon find itself in a position where it will have to decide which booster to proceed with towards the program. short-term final goal: the first orbital test flight of a spacecraft.

Once the two halves of the Booster 5 are soldered together, only a few things will differentiate it from the Booster 4. Over the past few weeks, SpaceX’s slow progress on Super Heavy B4 has mellowed a bit as technicians have started shutting down. the booster wireway (a conduit for plumbing, wiring, and avionics) with base covers. More importantly, SpaceX has also started to reinstall the Raptor engines. and installing a heat shield around these engines for the first time. In Musk’s photo released Nov. 17, this heat shield is easily visible and there are signs that it will eventually enclose the entire outer ring of 20 Raptor Boost engines above their nozzles.

When completed, this shield will theoretically protect each engine’s sensitive plumbing and wiring nest during static fires; ascension, abseiling and landing burns; and – most importantly – back to school. Unlike Falcon boosters, which always performing a three-motor “reentry burn” of about 30 seconds to slow down and cushion the blow from the reentry heater, SpaceX plans to salvage the steel Super Heavy boosters without reentry burns. In theory, this should make boosters recovery more efficient, allowing an additional dozen tons of thruster to send Starship into orbit instead of landing.

Super Heavy B4 before and after starting the installation of the Raptor heat shield. (EspaceX)

As of November 17, SpaceX has reinstalled the 29 Raptor engines on Booster 4, partially completed the outer ring of Raptor heat shields, and paved the way for more thermal protection around its 9 central engines and the gap between these inner Raptors and exterior. Protecting the engines of the Raptor Center in a way that always seals the rear of the Super Heavy will be even more difficult given that the nine must be able to freely articulate to direct their thrust, while the outer ring of the 20 Raptor Boost engines ( RB) is fixed. in place. At the rate of work established over the past few months, it will probably take several weeks for SpaceX to complete this heat shield and install seven “aerocovers” on the racks of sensitive equipment installed around the base of Booster 4.

Booster 4, September 8. (Spadre)

Super Heavy Booster 5, on the other hand, took a slightly different path during assembly. Unlike Booster 4, which initially was just a giant steel tank with half-installed Raptors, SpaceX appears to have installed most of the plumbing, wiring, external equipment brackets from Booster 5, and possibly- even be the start of his Raptor heat shield. during assembly instead of after. Perhaps as a result, SpaceX took over ten weeks to stack Booster 5 versus 2.5 weeks for Booster 4. But given that Booster 4 always does not appear to be finished some 18 weeks after starting its assembly, it is possible that Booster 5 will eventually take 4-6 weeks less to achieve initial test preparation.

If SpaceX Is Completing Super Heavy B5 well ahead of B4’s schedule, it will soon find itself with two Starship boosters ready for testing, but only one orbital-class medium to test them with, potentially forcing the company to make some interesting decisions.

SpaceX’s first two Super Heavy boosters progress well towards early testing

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