This week saw the first successful test of a Raptor Vacuum attached to Starship, while the first structural steel elements of the New High Bay have been erected. The two virtual public hearings were also held with very positive results, although there were also some questionable remarks. Finally, the most exciting news of the week comes in the form of the Chopstick arms of Mechazilla being installed to the tower and now appear to be self-supporting.
Static Fire Testing
On the 19th of October, the stage was set for what was expected to be the first static fire attempt. Ship 20 had previously had one Raptor Center installed and a single RVac. The fuel farm started showing signs of activity, and Ship 20 started venting shortly after. It was only 20 minutes before the end of the planned window that the testing occurred, although it was not a static fire test. Instead, SpaceX decided to test their preburner subassembly on the RVac.
The Preburner is where a small amount of fuel and oxidizer are combusted and used to power the turbopumps that then pull propellant into the main combustion chamber for ignition. Raptor Engines are largely unchanged beyond the nozzle, so previous test flights, testing of Raptor Centers and Raptor Boosts have all contributed to the flight heritage. With that being said, this is still a great milestone for SpaceX to tick off the checklist.
On the 21st of October, SpaceX successfully test-fired the first RVac integrated with a Starship vehicle. This was followed by a dual static fire of both installed engines, again marking the first time that both types of Raptors intended for use on Starship have been fired together. It is now expected that Ship 20 will receive the remainder of its engines before undergoing further static fire testing.
On the 20th of October, the chopsticks were lifted and installed onto the tower after a few days of staging, bringing the intended Starship and Booster catching and lifting system closer to reality. Now the arms are secured to the tower and the LR11350 has been released. From here, the teams are going to be working around the clock to install the arms, and then the actuators that will move the arms left and right.
It’s important to note that the arms were not expected to be installed before the first orbital test flight, however prolonged delays with the FAA environmental reviews have seen the schedule slip. It’s now very probable that we’ll see the full stack of Ship and Booster stacked by the Chopsticks, as currently, it appears SpaceX will not be able to launch before Q1 of 2022.
New High Bay Steel Installed
We’re finally seeing the first structural steel of the New High Bay installed at the build site, marking a shift in phases from ground and foundation work, to the assembly of the structure itself. The New High Bay will be much larger than the original but is also not expected to support a bar at the top level, instead being solely focused on the production of the Starship vehicles.
Current community estimations put the New High Bay being completed in Q1 of 2022, although whether this build will beat Ship 20 and Booster 4 to orbit is yet to be seen. This time, SpaceX has been seen constructing staircases clad in the same external material of the previous bay structures at the Sanchez site, indicating a possible prefabrication effort to make construction easier. It is yet to be seen, however, whether these stairs will be used in the New High Bay, or for the original High Bay in support of the temporary elevator system.
Finally, the two virtual public hearings were held on the 18th and 20th of October, drawing largely positive support for SpaceX’s Starship program in South Texas. While some commentators drew on religious experiences, conspiracy theories about Musk’s wealth, and other similarly sourced ideas, many of the most impassioned comments came in support.
“I don’t just ask you, I beg you to give them that permit. There are so many people here in the Brownsville area that have benefited from this project coming to our area,” said Jessica Tetreau. Tetreau, who is one of the six city commissioners of Brownsville, begged the FAA to approve the permit, citing the 2000 people who are currently employed by SpaceX through the Starship project. Tetreau started working with SpaceX ten years ago when the plan was initially focused on launching the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from Boca Chica.
The public comment period of the FAA’s Environmental Assessments closes on the 1st of November, 2021. Following this, the agency will work with SpaceX to review the comments and address any new concerns raised. There is no mention of how long this will take, although it is becoming increasingly probable that SpaceX will not launch the full stack in 2021.