An Update on Starship: Booster 9 Adorned with a Crown, Construction Progress, and HLS Test Article Development

Preparations are underway at Starbase for the upcoming second Starship test flight, with Booster 9 expected to return to the launch site soon. The installation of its hot staging ring is now complete, and the booster is ready to roll in the coming days. This hot staging ring will allow the ship to separate from the booster during flight after igniting some of its Raptors while the booster is still burning three low-throttled engines. This new system replaces an earlier, more complicated separation sequence.

Ship 25, which was rolled back to the “rocket garden,” will be stacked atop Booster 9 after successful Spin Prime and Static Fire tests. The Ship Quick Disconnect (SQD) has been moved higher on the tower to accommodate the extra height of the installed hot staging ring. Once all tests are completed, including a full stack cryo, launch operations will resume pending FAA approval.

Additionally, preparations for future flights are taking place at the former Masseys gun range-turned-test site. Structural testing on a hot staging ring test article has been performed to evaluate its performance under flight stresses. The site has proven to be instrumental in finding efficiencies in SpaceX’s test flow.

At the production site, the new Megabay is still under construction, with five levels added since May. A new ring-like structure has been observed at the Sanchez site, although its purpose remains unknown. Ship 29 has been moved around in the High Bay, while Ship 30 is currently under construction.

A noteworthy development in SpaceX’s long-term aspirations is the repurposing of an old, scrapped ship. Ship 22, which was previously broken up and scrapped to prioritize Ship 24, has resurfaced as the newest test article for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) project. The nose section of Ship 22 has been moved to a spot in Boca Chica Village, indicating its transformation into a mockup for the HLS program.

While much work remains to be done before the HLS program is ready to fly astronauts to the lunar surface, the Ship 22 nose mockup signifies progress in the program’s advanced stage. However, various aspects of Starship human lunar landings, such as the orbital refilling process, still need to be demonstrated.

The next immediate step for the HLS test flights, as well as other Starship missions, is the second test flight of the full Starship system. Road closures have been scheduled for vehicle testing, and the US Coast Guard has issued a hazard zone for launch activities. However, FAA approval for Starship’s return to flight is still pending.

To wrap it up, SpaceX is actively preparing for the second Starship test flight, with Booster 9 undergoing final preparations and the installation of its hot staging ring. Future vehicles are also being prepared for flight. Simultaneously, long-term aspirations are being pursued through the repurposing of an old ship for NASA’s HLS program. The construction of the new Megabay and the development of new structures at the Sanchez site indicate ongoing progress in SpaceX’s endeavors. However, FAA approval is still needed before launch operations can resume.