Starbase Update | Public Comment and Static Fires | 10/17/21

Over the last week, the main focus at the launch site has been Mechazilla, with all of the components moved into position and prepared for installation. While most things have gone smoothly, there has been an issue where a track bearing that allows the structure to move up and down the rails of the tower, fell off and broke, forcing a delay to the install while SpaceX ships in a replacement. 

This week also saw the start of the High Bay assembly, with structural steel I-beams delivered and a large crane now in position to help lift them into place. To the east of the new High Bay build site, Booster 5 now has its grid fins installed and is awaiting final assembly of the LOX and CH4 sections. Ship 21 is also making good progress, although it appears SpaceX is taking longer with this ship prototype, choosing to install the tiles before assembly as opposed to after assembly.

All things considered, it’s been a productive time, although things have been noticeably slower as the company finds itself between a rock and a hard place. SpaceX needs to launch flight 420 as soon as possible to test current design philosophies and see how they stand up to real-world flight. Any future vehicles built before this happens however, risk being flawed from the start and redundant following the results of the first flight. 

With that being said, there have already been sightings of Booster 6 and Ship 22 components, as well as the delivery of a new and improved thrust puck, allowing the booster to increase its Raptor count from 29 to 33. The intent to progress quickly is there, but the federal approval process is still underway.

Public Hearings

As part of the FAA public comment process, two public hearings will be held online on the 18th and 20th of November, at 5pm local time. The hearings will involve a PowerPoint presentation at the start, with the opportunity for members of the public to submit oral comments on the proposed decision of the FAA. 

While there has been some pushback from locals about Super Heavy operations and the disruption it could cause to local wildlife, it is currently expected that these public hearings will be in support of the proposed decision. These hearings will also highlight how locals are feeling and give SpaceX an idea of how much outreach they need to do. Ultimately, it’s up to the company and the FAA to assuage the fears and concerns of the community to allow for commercial operations to begin. 

Ship 20 Static Fires

Meant to occur in the week just past, the first Ship 20 static fire has now been moved to no earlier than (NET) the 18th of October. The window for operations starts at 5 pm and goes on for 7 hours until 12 am on the 19th, although this may be extended depending on the state of testing. 

Two backup windows are available on the 19th and 20th of September during the same timeframe (5 pm till 12 am the following day). Do not be surprised if SpaceX delay this testing as this is the first orbital-class ship to undergo testing with a full suite of Raptor Vacuum and Raptor Centers (Raptor engines that can gimbal). It is currently expected that both types of engines will be static fired during this testing campaign, which is a huge step to approving these vehicles for flight. 

Following the successful static fire(s) of Ship 20 and the installation of Mechazilla, Booster 4 will then enter its own series of tests, including a series of static fires increasing from the center 9 engines to all 28, although more on that when testing is closer. 

Written by: Carl Bolland (/u/TheEarthquakeGuy)