SpaceX installs a booster on the launch pad, stacks the orbital spacecraft to full height
Hours after SpaceX outfitted the first orbital prototype spacecraft with its six Raptor engines, the company installed the nose section of the vehicle, completing its basic structure.
While crews are working around the clock to weld the nose and tank sections of the Starship S20, SpaceX attached the first orbital-class Super Heavy – Booster 4 (B4) – to a huge crane that lives on the ramp. launch. At approximately 3:00 p.m. CDT (UTC-5), after allowing a minor storm to pass through the area, the Super Heavy B4 rose from its transport support, rose 30-40 meters into the air, and was carefully lowered onto the orbital platform launch table. . ‘
Together, Ship 20 and Booster 4 represent the two stages of the integrated vehicle that will support Starship’s first orbital test flight – a mission expected to take place before the end of the year. In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to be done, but SpaceX is much closer than it’s ever been with both an Orbital-class Starship and a Super Heavy nearing completion.
Of course, these two rocket stages have plenty of crucial steps to check out before SpaceX can truly consider them flight-ready. Like all Starship prototypes, Ship 20 will need to perform proof testing after assembly is complete. Notably, Ship 20 is the first prototype spacecraft with mounting points for six full Raptors, meaning it will almost certainly go through an even more rigorous proof test in which hydraulic jacks will simulate the thrust of these engines. .
In fact, one of SpaceX’s two suborbital launch racks has already been fitted with a three-cylinder jig used to test several earlier prototypes and – more importantly – modified with three cylinders to simulate three Raptor Vacuum engines. The engines installed on Ship 20 on August 3 are likely only a fit test or practice for the real deal and will need to be uninstalled for said cryogenic proof of the hydraulic cylinder in the near future.
The same could be true for Super Heavy Booster 4, which had 29 Raptor engines installed in 14 hours in a spectacular and unprecedented rocket assembly feat. At least five of its engines appear to have never been statically fired, implying that these engines – at a minimum – will likely be removed and returned to SpaceX’s McGregor development facility for individual qualification testing before being declared. ready for flight.
Ultimately, no matter when they may or may not be ready to be fired, stacked in a fully integrated Starship rocket, or even launched, the vast majority of orbital test flight hardware is complete or already on the launch pad. .