Starbase Update | Chopsticks, S20 Engines, and Flight 521 | 11/1/2021

As October ends, Starbase has been witness to the Chopsticks moving under their power, Ship 20 receiving the rest of her engines, and flight 521 entering the final stages of assembly. The new SpaceX Crane has arrived, Booster 4’s COPV covers have been spotted awaiting installation and the public comment period draws to a close. There's truly never a dull moment at Starbase.

Chopsticks are alive!

On October 28th, in the early hours of the morning, the Chopsticks moved horizontally under their power for the first time. This was likely part of the actuator testing as the chopsticks undergo their fit-outs ahead of entering a much larger testing window. The purpose of these arms is to both catch boosters and ships as they come into land, and lift the vehicles onto the launch mount in preparation for flight. By catching instead of landing using legs, they remove hardware from the vehicles and onto ground infrastructure which improves the payload to orbit of the system, while also removing limitations when it comes to the landing system design.

Initially, it was expected that the Chopsticks would not be installed until after flight 420, although due to the considerable delays with the FAA Environmental Assessment process, this has changed. At the time of writing this, only one actuator has been installed, so expect to see further testing in the weeks ahead. Another major milestone to look out for will be the threading of the cables that will lift the arms vertically.


Ship 20 gets its engines

On the 30th of October, the community saw the two remaining Raptor Vacuum engines installed, marking a complete Ship 20 ahead of full static fires in the weeks to come. Currently, the only road closure is for the 1st of November, starting at 10 am and finishing at 6:00 pm. At the time of writing this, it is expected that SpaceX will conduct further ship testing, although whether this will be a full 3 Vacuum Engine or 3 Sea Level engine static fire is yet to be seen.

So far Ship 20 has passed her tests with flying colors...and tiles. These tiles will need to be replaced and checked over before Ship 20 can be marked as ready for flight, although again, SpaceX has plenty of time to do this.


Flight 521 entering final assembly

The next test flight vehicles are heading into final assembly. Fully tiled Ship 21 parts have been seen for some time, although the progress on Booster 5 in the High Bay and the Ship 21 midsection in the Mid Bay give a clear indication as to how far along the process is. Currently, Ships need to be fully assembled within the High Bay due to height limitations of the Mid Bay. With this in mind, Booster 5 has to be completed first, before Ship 21 can be fully assembled.


Changing of the guard: Goodbye LR11350, Hello SpaceX LR11000

On October 27th, the LR11350 used to install tower segments and assemble the first full stack of the Starship System, lowered its boom for what is expected to be the final time of this development campaign. Since then, crews have been working to take apart the boom as the crane is prepped for transport to Corpus Christi to work on the Harbor bridge project. While this is the current end of the stay at Starbase, it is not currently known if it will be back for assembly of the second launch tower and associated facilities.

In its place, however, a brand new, SpaceX-owned LR11000 has arrived for assembly. This was sighted several months ago as parts being shipped from the German factory were spotted with the SpaceX logo on the side. This vehicle is expected to be used for all of the pad operations when it comes to testing, moving vehicles from transporters to stands, etc. It is not currently known if the crane will be used for the new launch tower.


Booster 4 Work

Booster 4 has not been quiet either. Recent flyovers from RGV Aerial Photography reveal the aero covers set to be installed over the COPVs on Booster 4. COPV stands for Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel and is used to store gases for use during testing and operations. It’s not currently known if these COPVs will remain external to the vehicle, or if in future booster iterations, they’ll be moved internally similar to the Falcon 9.

Another addition to Booster 4, as sighted by the community, is the brand new engine protection rings that have been installed. These act as shields to protect the engines from heat and potential kick up during testing and operations. It is important to note that Booster 4 is currently using Raptor Version 1, which has a lot of extra/external parts, compared to the much cleaner Raptor 2 that is currently being tested at McGregor. It’s not known if these shields are just for the Raptor 1 engines, or if they’ll be used for Raptor 2 as well.


Final hours of the FAA Super Heavy Environmental Assessment

At last, the end appears in sight, with the period of public comment for the FAA’s Starbase Environmental Assessment drawing to a close. This means that once the period is over, the FAA and SpaceX can work through the submitted comments to review and mitigate any concerns if necessary. Once this is complete and the FAA have submitted their final report, which at this point in time is a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), SpaceX will be able to apply for its first launch license of the full Starship system.

This is expected to take some time, with most people expecting a flight NET Q1 of 2022. Ultimately, this EA has been completed in a way that will allow for much faster reviews/changes/updates in the future, which is a very good sign for Starbase and SpaceX. Ultimately, for Starbase to be used as either a shipyard or a full commercial launch site, the number of full-stack operations needs to be increased significantly, and this change in how the EA was completed should support this endeavor. 

Written by: Carl Bolland (/u/TheEarthquakeGuy)