Elon Musk Reveals SpaceX Is Making Major New Changes To Starship

SpaceX’s Starship 25 comes back from retirement to conduct a static fire. SpaceX tests a water-cooled steel plate prototype for Starship launches at MacGregor. NASA chooses a second Moon lander from Blue Origin.

And the Artemis 2 crew is getting ready for a future lunar flyby. This is Starbase, a place where things change from impossible to just being late.

Maybe even in less than a few months from now, another Starship will take to the skies. This time, possibly crossing the Karman line into space. It remains to be seen which prototype will be the chosen one, but none of that can happen unless the orbital launch mounts are ready to take on the power of 33 Raptor engines.

Let’s take a look together. The construction progress is truly impressive. Over two weeks, more than 12 pile holds were drilled and filled with concrete. Judging by the nearby rebar cages, it appears that at least four additional piles are yet to be completed.

We anticipate that these piles will eventually be covered with a giant slab of concrete known as a pile cap, which will serve as the base for the water-cooled steel plate. Shifting our attention slightly to the left, we can observe the rapid development of the water supply system.

The previously absent four black high-pressure tanks have now been delivered to the launch site. As expected, nine sets of four tanks were stacked together right next to the white high-pressure vessels. These stacks were then firmly secured using welded cross beams, massively enhancing their strength.

Last week, I speculated whether four additional blocks of tanks will join the water supply or not, but as you can see, this dilemma is solved now. You may ask, why do they need such high pressure? The answer is simple.

Overcoming the full force of 33 Raptor engine is no easy task and as you will see in just a second, the system SpaceX plans to install is no joke either. Previously, the expectation was that the deluge would pour a layer of water across the entire plate’s surface to assist in the dissipation of the generated heat.

However, this purely insane video from McGregor shows that it soon will be much more than that.Contrary to the initial assumption, it appears that instead of numerous small holes shooting water straight up, each of the 33 engines will have its own set of holes drilled at an angle.

This arrangement creates cone-shaped streams of water just above the plate.The purpose of this appears to ensure that with sufficient water pressure, the flames from the engines will never make direct contact with the plate itself.

By deflecting the flames away, the water will act as a sort of barrier, protecting the system from the intense heat. In the videos shared by SpaceX, a Raptor was fired continuously for 15 terrible seconds, yet the deluge remained untouched, clearly showing that this system may work.

If this proves successful, it would not only enable rapid reusability of the orbital launch mount but also save the company from mountains of paperwork in case a full-blown flame trench would be the only other option.An outstanding Twitter thread was posted by our friend, Ryan, diving deep into the inner workings of the steel plate system.

Be sure to give him a follow, @RyanHansenSpace on Twitter. The two deluge parts observed last week are just a piece of the overall puzzle. Currently, it appears that every piece will consist of four individual components.

This modular design should allow workers to easily transport the plate and weld it together directly at the launch site.I can’t wait until the first part makes its way to the launch complex. What do you think? Will the water-cool steel plate be enough to prevent another month of repairs after the second launch? Will it resist the artificial hell of 33 Raptor engines? Please let me know in the comments.

I do read all of them. Now, if we back off a little, we can see the orbital tank farm. This area serves as SpaceX’s storage facility for various fluids, including but not limited to liquid oxygen and liquid methane, which are essential for fueling a Starship.

In recent days, there have been changes to in the tanks situated above the fluid(indistinct)Our Y-cam operator, Chief, was able to capture the welding and installation process of a replacement pipe at the orbital tank farm.

Moving a bit to the right near the distinctive-looking methane tanks, excavation work has taken place to create spacex for additional cryogenic storage. The fuel farm is expanding further for the largest rocket in history.

Right next to the blue drilling rig, another set of rebar cages has been assembled, pointing at the possibility that we are just days away from starting the ground support system expansion.

SpaceX engineers are doing an incredible job, making sure that the next orbital vehicle can be tested at the orbital launch site as fast as possible. To save time, it was decided that the testing will begin much sooner than that, just in a different place.

Moving a short distance down the road approximately 200 meters or around 775 feet away, we can spot the suborbital pads A and B. These pads have played a significant role in the past, being utilized for various tests including both ships and boosters.

Cryogenic fill-ups, static fires, and most importantly, test flights have all taken place here. While the pads have remained inactive for some time, that changed on May 18th when SpaceX confirmed that Ship 25 is slated for pad B.

After some difficulties with the road leading to Massey’s test site, Starship 25 was transported to the launch complex using a self-propelled modular transporter or short, SPMT.In the coming days or maybe weeks, we expect to see a static fire of all its six engines, three Raptor centers, and three Raptor vacuums.

This development comes as a massive surprise as our previous assumption was that this particular prototype would be inevitably scrapped. By looking at the wider perspective, we can see why SpaceX might have changed its mind.

Following the first orbital launch attempt, Elon Musk stated that they wanted to test out the Starship heat tiles’ performance. Unfortunately, the prototype didn’t reach that stage as it self-destructed even before engine ignition.

In light of the setback, SpaceX is likely considering a prototype with a full heat shield for the next flight. Starship 28 naturally comes to mind for the educated WAI fan, but it isn’t yet completed.At present, it doesn’t even have its aft flaps attached.

In addition to finishing up the avionic system and several other important tasks, this truly next-generation prototype would likely need to undergo pressure testing using a thrust simulator before it could receive its engines.

Such a process could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete, not to mention the possibility of uncovering some design errors as was the case with Ship 24 and Booster 7. On the other hand, Starship 25 has already undergone numerous pressure tests and is fully equipped with engines.

While its design may be considered outdated, it could still serve as a valuable test article to examine the behavior of its heat tiles during atmospheric reentry. Full send again? Time will tell whether Starship 25 will be chosen for the second launch attempt, but one thing is for certain.

They wouldn’t test it if they just wanted to scrap it. Now, turning our attention to the built site, which is conveniently just a short five-minute drive from the launch complex, we are greeted with a flurry of progress happening all around.

My favorite drive in the world, by the way.Inside the High Bay, we can spot two Starship prototypes. Ship 28 as mentioned earlier, has seen limited progress lately. However, Ship 29 is experiencing remarkable growth.

On May 19th, Chief captured some epic pictures showing the upper section of this prototype being stacked onto its middle liquid oxygen section. It’s worth noting that to accomplish this, the new load spreader was used while the previous squid lifting points were covered up.

This indicates that only the aft section remains to be added and the base of Ship 29 will be completed. Now, turn your head to the right and you’ll see the Mega Bay, a gigantic building dedicated to assembling even more epic prototypes.

Inside it, you’ll find Booster 9, eagerly awaiting its rollout.A nearly completed Booster 10, awaiting the installation of its 33 Raptor engines. And the cherry on top is Booster 11’s liquid oxygen sectional alongside the freshly finished liquid methane tank.

Now, the only thing remaining is to mate both tanks, and voila, another booster is ready to go through some pleasant cryogenic torture. Although it may seem like an abundance of spare prototypes, this is only the beginning.

Next to the first Mega Bay, a brand new construction has just commenced. On May 19th, the first column for Mega Bay 2 was erected, marking the start of a race to get the building up as fast as possible. The pace of placing additional columns and beams is astonishing.

The rapid tempo is likely driven by the fact that the Sanchez site is running out of space for the pre-fabricated sections. Once the first floor is finished, the second floor will likely be transported using SPMTsand promptly stacked in the following days.

At this pace, Mega Bay 2 will be completed in no time. Yet the purpose of this bay is still shrouded in mystery. It could potentially serve as another area for assembling additional prototypes or perhaps it’s the beginning of something more ambitious such as a payload processing facility.

Another more likely option is that it will eventually become a Starship production lineas mentioned multiple times by Elon Musk himself. Talking about Starship production lines, I want to give a little shout-out to my friends at Aerospace Board Games.

Lastly, let’s move away from Starbase and visit Massey’s test facility located just a few miles down Highway 4 Road.This location previously visited by using the last episode is where Booster 6 was punctured during a recent test, spilling water everywhere.

We still believe that this was an intentional flight termination system test. It is also the site where the four mentioned Ship 25 was situated before being relocated to the launch site. Before the cleanup process for Booster 6 even begin, another test tank, Ship 26.1, underwent a cryogenic test on May 19th.

Unlike the previous test, this one was not destructive and supposedly pushed the tank to its limits, evaluating its performance under extremely cold temperatures. In addition to the extensive testing activities, the test site itself is also expanding.

Excavators are preparing the ground for what likely will be another cryogenic test stand. Right next to S26.1, foundations are being prepared, possibly indicating an upcoming installation of a new set of tanks.

Hopefully, they won’t be too close to the prototype itself, because, in the case of a tank failure, things could spin out of control quickly. I’m interested to see what types of testing will happen in the future at Massey’s.

Maybe one day, it will even receive its own Raptor test stand. Now, let’s dive into a recent batch of Falcon 9 missions, starting with a second-generation Starlink launch. On May 19th, during a wonderful Florida night, a group of 22 Starlinks took off from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40 to be deployed in space

You might wonder why only 22 Starlinks.Isn’t the count usually north of 50? Well, this time, it was the second generation of mini-satellites again, a preview of what will be launched in the future aboard shiny Starship.

Each satellite weighs around 800 kilograms or 1,760 pounds, which is more than twice the mess of the previous version and still only a third of what a Starship Starlink satellite will weigh. Currently, SpaceX is launching both the old and new satellites, but they plan to focus solely on the new version shortly.

As always, the booster this time, B1076, landed safely on the Shortfall of Gravitas drone ship, marking the 118th successful landing in a row. It is hard to believe, but this mission, Starlink 6-3, was SpaceX’s 33rd launch this year.

That’s not only more than what they achieved in the whole of 2021, but it also surpasses their 2022 record when the 33rd launch took place in July. With the current launch cadence, it seems unlikely that SpaceX will reach its goal of 100 launches in 2023.

However, I can almost guarantee you that they’ll get close. Next up on our list is another Falcon 9 launch. This time, from the foggy West Coast of California. We got better weather, just saying. The initial lift-off attempt from SLC-4E ended abruptly after an abort was called just five seconds into the vehicle startup sequence.

Fortunately, that’s precisely why countdowns exist. Detecting any issues before the lift-off is crucial for SpaceX, especially when aiming for two launches per week, as any anomaly would trigger a lengthy investigation from the FAA.

Better safe than sorry. However, it appears that this time, the abort wasn’t caused by anything major. Merely a day later, Booster B1063 was ready to launch the next payload. On board were 21 satellites, comprising 5 from Iridium and 16 from OneWeb.

The former is a constellation of 66 spacecraft enabling global satellite phone coverage. While the letter provides satellite internet access similar to Starlink, but with a smaller fleet of just shy of 700 satellites.

It looks like SpaceX has no problem with fog whatsoever, as, during the lift-off, Falcon 9 was barely recognizable. Nevertheless, all payloads were successfully deployed and the booster again hit the bullseye on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship. Epic.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter, @FelixSchlang, or even become a Twitter subscriber to not miss out on any Falcon 9 updates. While sending payloads to low Earth orbit may seem challenging, it pales in comparison to the obstacles awaiting the astronauts of Artemis 2in less than a year and a half from now.

In April, NASA announced the lucky selected to participate in humanity’s return to the Moon, Reed Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch, and Jeremy Hansen. They will launch in an Orion capsule, atop the mighty Space Launch System for a remarkable 10-day journey around the Moon.

No landing is planned for this initial crude launch, just a closed lunar flyby since none of the Moon landers will be ready by that time and you really wanna make sure the ride works before attempting anything else.

That doesn’t mean that the astronauts will simply ride in an autonomous capsule without any responsibilities. On May 15th, NASA stated that starting in June, which is less than two weeks away, the first Artemis crew will begin their 18 months of intensive training.

During this period, they will not only learn how to pilot the Orion capsule and navigate its rather complicated interface but also receive comprehensive training on emergency procedures. As demonstrated by the Apollo 13 mission, emergencies are not confined to the realm of sci-fi action flicks.

And while Artemis 2 will be a captivating mission, the anticipation of humans, once again, planting a flag on the lunar surface and hopefully doing much more this time around is truly exciting. Back in 2021, the American Space Agency selected SpaceX as the exclusive provider of a human landing system or HLS lander, as space geeks say, intended to make a Moon landing possible as early as the end of 2025.

SpaceX’s Lunar Starship not only turned out to be the most cost-effective option with a price tag of just $2.9 billion with the rest of the research and development costs paid by Elon Musk and his company, but it also was the most advanced and capable lunar land ever to be proposed.

Not everyone was pleased with this decision, particularly Blue Origin, which subsequently filed a lawsuit against SpaceX.However, they failed to substantiate their claim of NASA’s favoritism towards SpaceX and ultimately lost the case.

A wise man once said that you can’t sue your way to the moon.Two years later, it turns out that the lawsuit could have been avoided altogether Jeff Bezos, his company, has recently been selected to provide a lunar lander for the fifth Artemis mission.

To clarify any confusion, this contract is separate from the one awarded for Artemis 3 and 4 missions.SpaceX remains responsible for those. Nothing changes in that regard. Instead, NASA is trying to ensure that a backup opportunity exists, as we can’t be 100% sure that Starship won’t encounter some considerable roadblocks that would significantly slow down the development process.

For a mere sum of $3.4 billion and an undisclosed amount of their funding, Blue Origin will construct a reusable lunar land capable of delivering 20 tons of payload. To the Moon’s surface and supporting a crew of four astronauts for 30 days.

The Blue Moon Lander stands at an impressive height of 16 meters or 52.5 feet and has a diameter of 7 meters or 23 feet, allowing it to fit snugly within New Glenn’s payload fairing. While the recent trend in rocket propulsion is to go with a metal ox combination, Blue Moon takes a different approach.

Relying on the combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, Blue Origin hopes that in the future, these propellants can be produced directly on the Moon. To achieve full reusability, Lockheed Martin is tasked with developing a specialized space truck that will operate between low Earth orbit and the Moon to refuel Blue Origin’s lunar lander.\

This refueling capability is essential for enabling sustainable missions to the lunar surface and back. While some could argue that orbital refueling sounds immensely complex and high risk, this won’t be the most enduring challenge faced by Jeff Bezos’s company in getting people to the Moon.

While liquid hydrogen is a remarkably efficient propellant, it poses some difficulties due to its tendency to escape storage tanks and its extremely low boiling point. This becomes particularly problematic during long-duration space journeys as the fuel needs to be maintained close to absolute zero temperature.

Most missions utilizing liquid hydrogen must be executed quickly to minimize boil-off. Blue Origin hasn’t shared yet how exactly they are going to prevent this physical phenomenon. However, if they can overcome this challenge, it would unlock numerous possibilities for extended-duration space exploration.

The Artemis 5 mission is currently scheduled for 2029, but it is likely to experience delays and is expected to slip into the early 2030s. Nevertheless, we are entering an exciting phase of private lunar exploration, witnessing the beginning of innovative concepts such as space tugs and orbital refueling, while also seeing a strong emphasis on reusability.

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