SpaceX aims to return NASA astronauts to the Moon by 2025 aboard a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) as part of the agency’s Artemis program. The company is conducting pre-flight preparations to launch the first Starship orbital flight test this year. SpaceX is performing ground tests of prototypes Starship SN20 and Super Heavy rocket Booster 4. This week the spacecraft was stacked with the launch tower’s 'Mechazilla' arms. The robotic arms lifted the 50-meter-tall Starship atop the 230-foot-tall booster on Tuesday, March 15. It is the third time SpaceX fully-stacks the stainless-steel vehicle and the second time it uses the robotic arms to stack. The stacking operation duration was approximately 20 minutes; the previous stacking procedures took over an hour.
Tower quick disconnect mated to S20 at 9:29p CDT pic.twitter.com/sZmd7l12Ou— LabPadre (@LabPadre) March 16, 2022
Starship SN20 and Booster 4 are simultaneously undergoing testing for the first time. Boca Chica residents have cameras near the launch pad that livestream SpaceX activities 24/7. On Wednesday, March 16, engineers performed the first cryogenic proof test with a fully-stacked Starship. The propellant tanks were filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures to assess the vehicle's strength at high pressure (videos shown below). This test provides engineers with insight needed to know whether the spacecraft and rocket are capable of withstanding the stresses of spaceflight and see whether there's any leaks in the structure. The videos of the test procedure suggest that engineers tested ground systems at the launch pad, known as 'Stage Zero,' which includes lines that load propellant into Starship via plumbing on the Quick Disconnect (QD) arm (as shown in the video above). Once SpaceX completes proof testing, the next phase of testing is expected to be a static-fire test of Booster 4's 29 Raptor engines while Starship remains at top. This test is performed with the Methalox propellant (liquid methane and liquid oxygen).
Wow! That's impressive. Full Stack cryoproof test beginning.— Chris Bergin - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) March 17, 2022
Commentary livestream to begin here:https://t.co/hamoQafDBQ
Starbase Live for the interim:https://t.co/2S9RYdDoV9 pic.twitter.com/9eSJ9vVUcG
TEN #Starship & #Superheavy #RCS Vents #AtTheSameTime....this thing is a #MONSTER! The sounds are incredible, and I am way too excited haha.— 🇺🇦 Zack Golden 🇺🇦 (@CSI_Starbase) March 17, 2022
Volume Warning!! @LabPadre #Rover2 cam pic.twitter.com/os2TmBhJWf
The company is pending approval from the U.S Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct a spaceflight at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica Village, Texas. The FAA said it expects to complete an environmental assessment of the beach launch site by March 28. Local sources believe that by the time SpaceX receives approval from the Administration, the company will have a new Starship and Booster prototype with improved capabilities ready to conduct the orbital flight. However, the company has not provided any new details about the orbital flight test. According to a 2021 flight plan outlined in a U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) document, the Super Heavy Booster will propel Starship to orbit from Starbase, Texas, and the spacecraft will circle the planet to land in the ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. The booster will conduct a soft landing at sea in the Gulf of Mexico near Boca Chica Beach soon after propelling Starship to orbit.
SpaceX already has FAA environmental approval to launch Starship from the East Coast. It started building a second Starship orbital launch tower at NASA's Kennedy Space Center historic Launch Complex-39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the first crewed flight is expected to lift off from. The company recently announced the Polaris Program that is funded by Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman. The program's crew members will test new SpaceX spacesuits designed for spacewalks, as well as new technologies aboard a pair of Crew Dragon missions that will lead up to the first crewed Starship spaceflight. Read more: Polaris Program Crew will test SpaceX Starlink laser-based communications in Space, One day the Internet network could be used on the Moon & Mars
VIDEO: SpaceX Starbase Launch Pad LabPadre 24/7 Livestream
Featured Image Source: SpaceX