SpaceX installs a Super Heavy booster on a launch pad with giant robot arms

SpaceX installs a Super Heavy booster on a launch pad with giant robot arms

SpaceX transported the most powerful rocket booster ever assembled to its Starbase (OLS) orbital launch site and used giant robotic arms to install it.

This is not the first such trip for Starship’s Super Heavy first stage in general, nor for this specific booster, known as Booster 7 or B7. Booster 7 first headed to the pad on March 31 and passed two major cryogenic proof tests, but was then badly damaged in a subsequent structural stress test. After a few weeks of repairs at the factory, B7 rode the pad a second time and performed a third cryoproof test and returned to the factory on May 14, where it remained until June 23.

After nearly six weeks of extra work, Booster 7 rolled to the launch pad for the third time – possibly its last trip.

However, even the first deployment of Booster 7 was not unprecedented. In September 2021, Booster 4 – an earlier prototype with fewer engines, less thrust and several other differences – arrived at the launch site with 29 Raptor V1 engines installed. Over the next six months, SpaceX slowly completed the booster, performed a handful of validation tests, and eventually performed three full-stack tests with Starship S20. For a time, SpaceX hoped to eventually fly B4 and S20 in Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, but that plan never materialized.

The Booster 4 was particularly disappointing and never even attempted a single static fire despite its 29 engines being fully installed and enclosed inside a hull-like heat shield. Fortunately, Booster 7 appears to have a much better chance of attempting at least one or more static fires, although there’s no guarantee it’ll pass this test campaign in good enough condition to sustain the orbital launch debut of Starship.

SpaceX used the six weeks Booster 7 spent in a factory assembly bay to complete the installation of aerocovers, surfaces known as chines or strakes, grid fins the size of a car, Starlink Internet dishes and, above all, 33 upgraded Raptor V2 engines. Combined, the Booster 7 should be capable of producing up to 7,600 metric tons (~16.8 M lbf) of thrust – 41% more thrust than the Booster 4 was theoretically capable of. Importantly, SpaceX also completed the installation of Booster 7’s Raptor heat shield during the same period, completing in six weeks a job that took Booster 4 more than six months.

That’s probably because testing Booster 4, for some reason, just wasn’t a priority for SpaceX. However, getting Booster 7 ready for static fire testing is clearly a top priority in 2022. With its heat shield and all 33 Raptors installed, Booster 7 will be ready to start static fire testing almost as soon as it is ready. will be installed on Starbase’s Orbital Launch Mount.

The B7’s 33 Raptor engines

According to CEO Elon Musk, Booster 7 will start by firing up one or a few Raptor engines. SpaceX has never fired more than six Raptor V1 engines simultaneously and has never tested more than three engines at a time on a Super Heavy booster. This plan could have easily changed, however. Either way, Super Heavy B7 will tread new ground. Before the actual static fires even start, Booster 7 will also need to perform one or more wet-suit repeats (WDR), a test that exactly simulates a launch but stops just before ignition time.

If SpaceX attempts a wet dress rehearsal, in which the booster would be filled with more than 3,000 tonnes (~6.6 M lb) of liquid oxygen (LOx) and liquid methane (LCH4), that would be a first for Super Heavy. and equally large of an orbital launch site test. Booster 7 will also have to test its autogenous pressurization, which replaces helium with hot oxygen and methane to pressurize the rocket’s propellant tanks.

(NASA Spaceflight Starbase Live)

Several hours after Super Heavy B7 arrived (for the third time) at the orbital launch site, SpaceX used two giant arms attached to the launch pad tower to lift the rocket ~70 meters (~230 feet) high on the launch pad. While Musk says the ultimate goal is to use these arms to grab Starship and Super Heavy into the air, their current goal is to replace the tall, heavy crane that would otherwise have to be used to lift either. stage. The arms are an extremely complex solution, but they allow SpaceX to lift, install and remove Starship stages remotely and isolate these processes from wind conditions, to which the cranes are sensitive.

Once fully secured by the stand’s 20 holding clamps, the booster will be connected to ground systems and SpaceX can prepare B7 to begin the next stage of pre-flight testing as early as Monday, June 27.

SpaceX installs a Super Heavy booster on a launch pad with giant robot arms

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