SpaceX is performing pre-flight tests of the Super Heavy rocket that will propel Starship to orbit during the second fully-integrated test flight expected to take place sometime this year. The timeline will be determined based on whether the stainless-steel spacecraft passess all pre-flight testing and when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants a spaceflight license. “Preparing for next Starship flight! This time, I think we have ~50% probability of reaching orbital velocity, however even getting to stage separation would be a win,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk on August 4.
So far, engineers have completed multiple pre-flight tests of the Super Heavy prototype that will be launched next, called Booster 9. Last week, engineers performed a propellant load test of Booster 9. The load test is to verify and validate the performance and integrity of the rocket's propellant system. It helps to ensure that the tanks, valves, pumps, and other components involved in the propellant handling process function correctly and can handle the extreme conditions encountered during liftoff and flight.
Engineers also performed a full-pressure test of the new Starbase launch tower “flame deflector system,” which is a steel plate underneath the launch mount with a water deluge system that spews massive amounts of water designed to “protect against the immense heat and force of Starship launch,” shared Musk.
Most recently, SpaceX announced “Booster 9 completed a flight-like chill and spin of the Raptor engine pumps in advance of static fire,” the company shared on Friday, August 4. During this “chill and spin” test, the 33 Raptor V2 engines that are attached to the rocket and their pumps are spun up to operational speeds. The pumps are responsible for supplying fuel (methane) and oxidizer (liquid oxygen) to the engine combustion chamber. By spinning up the pumps and chilling them, SpaceX can simulate the conditions the engines will experience during an actual launch. The “chill” part refers to cooling down the pumps to extremely low temperatures using cryogenic propellants – liquid methane and liquid oxygen – also known as ‘Methalox’. This is important because the propellants will be at very low temperatures in space, and the engines need to perform reliably under those conditions.
The “spin” part refers to spinning the pumps at their operational speeds. This ensures that the pumps are balanced and can effectively deliver the propellants to the combustion chamber during the actual engine firing. This test does not involve igniting the Raptors, it is a pre-flight preparation ahead of performing a static-fire test.
During the upcoming static fire test, Booster 9 will be held firmly in place (hence "static") on the ground, and its engines are ignited for a short duration while the vehicle remains stationary. This test is conducted to verify the performance of the engines and their systems in a controlled environment. It helps SpaceX engineers gather data on factors such as thrust, fuel consumption, pressure, and temperature. The combination of the chill and spin test followed by the static fire test allows SpaceX to assess the readiness of the rocket's engines and make any necessary adjustments before proceeding to an actual launch.
Overall, these tests are crucial steps in the development and testing process of the Starship Super Heavy rocket, ensuring that the engines are capable of functioning as intended during the high-stress conditions of spaceflight.
Preparing for next Starship flight! This time, I think we have ~50% probability of reaching orbital velocity, however even getting to stage separation would be a win. https://t.co/MUS8EZtyYy— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 5, 2023
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.