Starship full-stack undergoes testing, environmental assessment imminent

As progress continues to move at a rapid pace, a fully stacked Starship underwent its first cryogenic proof test this week followed by the first propellant loading test for the vehicle.

Hardware continues to be spotted in Florida with the construction of the tower segments as foundations are poured at Starship’s Florida launch site.

Whilst the hive of activity in Texas and Florida continues, SpaceX is eagerly awaiting the result of the FAA’s environmental assessment of the Boca Chica launch site. The results are expected on March 28.

Starbase

Production site

Starbase remains the center of Starship’s development despite significant progress over in Florida.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously discussed the idea of flatter domes for future vehicles, with the intention to simplify its design. This was spotted by NASASpaceflight’s Mary this week, with a noticeably flattened design sporting fewer and more simplistic panels. These are expected to be adopted by boosters and ships in the near future.

As Booster 7 occupies the high bay, and with a growing need for more storage space as production cadence increases further, the requirement for the wide bay grows stronger. Its construction has gone at pace, and the building recently had new beams installed on top of the structure. Work remains before its completion, but perhaps that’s not far away.

Amongst other events at the production site, new self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs) have been delivered and assembled. These will assist in transporting hardware to and from the launch site. Also, a ship aft dome with a new design was flipped, a booster header tank lifted, and a booster common dome flipped, likely for Booster 9.

Launch site

It has been a week of firsts at the Boca Chica launch site with a full stack cryogenic proof test and a propellant loading test.

Earlier in the week, Booster 4 and Ship 20 were filled with super-cold liquid nitrogen simultaneously. The test aimed to verify the structural integrity of both vehicles whilst also gaining valuable data on the tank farm. It appeared the test was a success, but no official confirmation was given.

Further full-stack testing continued over the next couple of days, with full-stack propellant loading. In contrast to the cryogenic proof test, the Booster and Ship received liquid oxygen, methane, or both. Although the test appeared to be incomplete, the vehicles remained intact, ending what could prove to be Booster 4 and Ship 20’s last test.

Destacking of Ship 20 from Booster 4 followed on Saturday evening, with the chopsticks returning the Ship to the ground. Ship 20’s departure from the launch site appears to be imminent and a Booster 4 static fire looks increasingly unlikely.

Brownsville airport

As NASA’s Space Launch System rocket rollout to LC-39B began, local photographers spotted a single SN8 forward flap on display at Brownsville Airport. SN8 was the first Starship to perform a high-altitude flight test. The vehicle had a successful ascent and belly flop maneuver before its engines failed to relight nominally, culminating in a fiery explosion.

It had previously seemed a full Starship may be put on display at the airport, but for the time being it is only a remaining flap from SN8.

Florida

The construction of the tower segments for the Starship pad at LC-39A is underway. It appears two sections are almost ready to be transported to the launch site when required.

Much like at Starbase, the segments are being built at separate locations to the launch site. These segments are constructed at SpaceX’s Roberts Road facility. Five sets of four concrete pads are built at the site, suggesting the company can produce up to five segments of the tower at any one time.

Another noticeable sign of change in Florida is at the Kennedy Space Center’s historic LC-39A. Concrete is being poured to provide a foundation at the future Starship pad, preparing the area for construction of the launch and catch tower.

FAA environmental assessment

The result of the FAA’s environmental assessment on the Starbase launch facility is imminent with its release expected on March 28.

Although SpaceX may soon be capable of launching Starship from Florida, the requirement of an environmental impact statement in Boca Chica would be a huge blow to the company. Whatever the result, a Starship orbital flight test remains several months away.

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