SpaceX Assembles Ship 25 and Booster 9, Readies for Upcoming Flight

SpaceX has reached a significant milestone in its Starship program as it rolls out Ship 25 to the launch site and stacks it on top of Super Heavy Booster 9. This marks the first fully stacked Starship rocket to be assembled at Starbase since April 20. Ship 25 has undergone several important upgrades and additions in preparation for its upcoming test flight, pending regulatory approval.

Ship 25 has spent the last month at Starbase’s Rocket Garden after being rolled back from the launch site on August 5th. During this time, final preparations for flight have been made, including the addition of thermal protection system (TPS) tiles to the nosecone and a new livery. However, it became evident that more work was required as the installation of TPS tiles took longer than expected. Close-up pictures of the ship reveal that SpaceX has been busy making last-minute changes to the prototype.

One notable upgrade is the addition of extra charges for the flight termination system (FTS). During the first flight of Starship, the FTS was triggered when the rocket lost control. However, the charges were not powerful enough to separate each stage as intended. To address this issue, SpaceX has already implemented this upgrade on Booster 9 and is now adding extra explosive charges to Ship 25. The goal is to ensure that if the FTS needs to activate during flight, the stages will separate properly.

Another upgrade involves the addition of new vents on the aft section of Ship 25, similar to those on Booster 9. These vents are believed to be part of a carbon dioxide (CO2) purge system that prevents fires from starting and spreading in the engine section. The presence of these vents on Ship 25 indicates SpaceX’s commitment to avoiding engine fires, which may have contributed to the loss of control during the first Starship flight.

Ship 25 also features a new set of pipes on the leeward side of the ship, similar to the engine chill pipes already present. These pipes may be used to vent gases during engine ignition, although their exact purpose is currently unknown. Additionally, reinforcements have been added to the welds between the rings at and below the quick disconnect umbilical plate on the aft end of Ship 25. This upgrade was previously implemented on Ship 24 and is now being applied to Ship 25 after undergoing structural testing.

The stacking of Ship 25 atop Booster 9 on September 5th marked the first time a ship and booster with a vented interstage were assembled together. This stacking process lasted over an hour and ended with the ship settling on the booster. With the addition of a new hot staging ring on the booster, the total height of the rocket has increased, making it the tallest rocket in the world.

Both Ship 25 and Booster 9 have undergone necessary preparations for launch, with only FAA approval remaining. SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, has stated that the vehicles are ready for launch, indicating that major rocket testing may not be conducted until approval is granted. However, depending on the timeframe for FAA approval, SpaceX may choose to perform some additional testing to gather further data before the flight.

It is expected that a few days prior to launch, Ship 25 will be destacked to prepare its flight termination system. This involves removing physical safety pins from the FTS control boxes to prevent accidental triggering of the explosives. This process is likely to occur after FAA approval, similar to the first flight of Starship.

The successful stacking of Ship 25 and Booster 9 signifies a significant step forward for SpaceX’s Starship program. With its upgraded features and improvements, Ship 25 is poised for its upcoming test flight. As SpaceX awaits regulatory approval, anticipation builds for another milestone in the company’s ambitious space exploration endeavors.