What’s the trick behind SpaceX’s Starbase? Booster 4 getting ready for static fire!
This episode is sponsored by Surfshark. From Dirt hill to orbit? How is SpaceX building all theinfrastructure needed for a Starship orbital launch?How does it work? How is all of it connected. If you’ve asked yourself some or all of these questionsbefore, this one will be very interesting for you!Let’s find out!My name is Felix, and I am your host fortoday’s episode of What about it!?And as always, there’s been a lot going on in thespace industry lately, so let’s dive right in!Starbase InfrastructureToday we’ll continue what we started last time. We’ll pick one topic and explainit as best as we can. This time we’ll take a detailed lookat the SpaceX Starbase launch site. Stage Zero. The place where we might actuallyleave our planet to settle on anotherone in the not-too-distant future. So, this is it. Mauricio has taken the best pictures byfar of what SpaceX is doing in Boca Chica, Texas. Starbase, as SpaceX has named the site, is a developmentand test facility for SpaceX’s Starship. Also known as the South Texas launch site or BocaChica launch site, Starbase essentially isa private rocket development and launch site. Located approximately 32 kilometers east ofBrownville, Texas, the site’s primary focusis to develop, test, and fly Starships,SpaceX’s next-generation fullyreusable mega-rocket. The rocket consists of two stages. The first stage, known as Super Heavy to the publicor just booster to Starship fans, is a 69meter tall and 9-meter wide booster stage. Currently outfitted with 29 and latereven with 33 SpaceX Raptor engines,this booster stage will have more than double thethrust of the Saturn V Apollo Moon rocket,the most powerful rocket toever fly to Space so far. The second stage, known as Starship or justShip, is a 50-meter tall second orupper stage weighing roughly 120 tons. Its most revolutionary featureby far is reusability. Where booster stages have been flown, landed,and reused by SpaceX before on theFalcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets,an upper stage has never been reused before. Ever. SpaceX’s Starship issupposed to do just that. Fly to orbit, deploy a payload or deliver Astronautsto LEO, Moon, and Mars and then returnback to Earth, reenter the atmosphere,fall down like a skydiver controlled byits four large flaps and then flip backto a vertical position and land. Sounds simple in theory. But if you add thesecond crucial ability of SpaceX’s Starshipon top, it gets a lot more complicated. Fast and full reusability. The plan is touse Starships like commercial airplanes. Fly, land, refuel and fly againin quick succession. Most of my regular viewers will already know this. From here on it gets complicated. Sit back and relax. Today is all aboutexplaining the big picture!And as said in the beginning, todaywe’ll focus on the launch site. One of two SpaceX sites in Boca Chica,it’s where the action happens. This is where all the testing happens, and todayI’ll take the time to explain to you howall of what you see here plays together. How it connects, what it’s for, and whySpaceX is building this as they do. First of all, let’s put some labels on things to get ageneral overview of what’s where and how it connects. We can divide the site roughly into three parts. All the way, on the right, we have theSuborbital part of the test site. Here you can find one of two tank farms. This one is the older one of two on-site, and it’sbeen one of the first things SpaceX built here. It supplies suborbital test flights withfuel, Nitrogen, Helium, and water. All those commodities are needed toget a Starship off the ground. We also have two suborbital test pads. This is where all the pressure tests and launcheshave happened so far, and it’s about to change. For example, SN3, one of the earliest test candidates,had a structural collapse here. Or test tank SN4, which had a problemwith the fuel quick disconnect. These suborbital pads have seenlots of failures in the past. But they’ve also seen incredible milestones. SN5 & 6, which came directly after thosedramatic failures and flew inAugust and September of last year,showed for the first time that SpaceXwas on the right track. SpaceX’s Raptor. A full-flow staged combustion engineflew for the first time in human history. And to be able to control these flights, SpaceXadded a Control Center to the site. Back then, many were wondering why SpaceX was buildingit right next to the Suborbital pads. Now we know more. Those pads will soon be decommissionedand only used for minor pressure tests at max. The suborbital flight phase is almost over,and it’s currently unknown if the suborbitalpas will ever be used for flights again. Of course, SpaceX also needs some infrastructurenot directly related to igniting a rocket. For example, there’s a ground support equipmentbunker and a desalination plant for water. Freshwater is a problem on-site, as it’s not connectedto the main water pipes coming from Brownsville. SpaceX has to produce its own fresh water on site. The next central part of the Launch siteis used as an assembly and storage arearight now, and this has a reason. A few months ago, all this looked very different. This picture, for example, was taken by Mauricio fromRGV Aerial Photography on November 28th of 2020. As you can see, the site has changedtremendously in under a year. Back then, the center of the site was dominatedby a large concrete square. The Starship landing pad. Other parts, like almosteverything to the left of it, were still missing. The reason? Different task. Back then, everything evolved aroundthe high-altitude flight tests. Between December 9th of 2020 and May 6thof 2021, five Starship prototypes flew. SN8, 9, 10, 11, and 15. All of them lifted off,did their ascend, transitioned to their horizontalskydive descent, and tried to land. Only one of them succeeded in notexploding after the landing. SN15. And all this is part of SpaceX’siterative design process. It basically means that you builda rudimentary design idea. SN8. You try it out. You fail. You fix the problems and try again. SN9. You fail with a different problem. You fix and try again with SN10 and so on untilSN15 was able to accomplish the complete taskfrom ignition to landing and engine shut down. This is different from what it usually looks like,as SpaceX is not building a traditional rocket. Even Falcon 9, which is already partly reusableby landing the first stage booster, is differentfrom what Starships are supposed to do. So, SpaceX is forced to try outits ideas over and over again. This way, they’re able to build somethingthat’s never been made before. A fully reusable Launch system, capableof swift turnaround times. Step by step and idea by idea. Starships are not designed, built, and flown. The concept is perfected more and morewith each succeeding prototype. Next up are the orbital launch site, Mechazilla,orbital fuel farm, a status update on Ship20 and booster 4, the latest test dates,and a very important announcementfor you, so stay tuned!It’s worth it!The Wai Family needs your support!Give the video a like, subscribe and share it withyour friends on Twitter or Facebook to show the YouTubealgorithm that you appreciate the content!Looking for a more direct way of support?Become a Patron or YouTube member by clickingthe join button right under thevideo and get some awesome percs!Gain access to our Discord Server where you can meetme and the rest of the community or get a completelyad-free release of each and every episodeprovided just for channel members!Or do you know about the WAI Warehouse?Shop for your next Starship shirt, hoodieor cap and look as awesome as you feel!We also have a brand new sub-channel,called WAI Plus. More WAI, more Starbase and more space enthusiasm!The link is in the description,subcribe, and ring the bell!This brings us back to our overview map andour last major part of the launch site. The orbital launch site. The landing pad isnot even visible anymore, only five monthsafter the last high-altitude flight,because SpaceX is now planning for the nextchapter in their development plan. Orbital flights. And you can see itby just looking at the picture. The left side of the launch site has a muchbigger infrastructure in place by now. Orbital Starships will have no legs to land on. In this video taken by Kevin Randolph,aka Chief, our second photographeron site at Starbase on November 3rd,you can see the latest progress on what’scalled the orbital integration toweror Mechazilla by Starship fans. I am talking about the massive 140-metertall tower here in the center. Its purpose is to launch and catch Starshipsand Super Heavy boosters. SpaceX’s plans have changed often sincethe project was first announced. And it arguably got crazier and crazier over time. Besides wanting to land a rocket stageagain, which by the way, has never beendone by anyone except SpaceX before,they also want to do it with the second stageand on top of that without any legs. SpaceX basically moved the legs to this tower. Those rocket catch arms here, also known asChopsticks, will try and catch a rocket boosterand then a Starship out of mid-air. As depicted by Tijn M here,the plan is to use the catch arms to grab boosterand Starship while they approach the launch towerand then use the same system to stack themon the launch mount and on top ofeach other and relaunch them. On our top-down view, the launch tower,including the catcher arms and a quickdisconnect arm, can be seen hereand the orbital launch mount, from which the orbitalflights will launch, can be seen here. And the project is not yet finished, even thoughMusk recently stated that an orbital launch attemptcould happen at the end of this month. Luis and Chief were able to take somefascinating pictures recently. Over the past few days, SpaceX has been busy attachingmore and more actuators to the catch arms. These are some of the locations in whichthe arms will be able to move. As stationary as they might look now, they willbe more like robotic arms in the end. Able to move in all sorts of different locationsto accomplish stacking and catching tasks. In this picture taken on November 2nd by Luis,you can see what I’m talking about. On the left, we have the suborbital tank farm and booster3 still sitting on one of the suborbital pads. Next to it, we have Ship 20 and Booster 4 almostready for the first orbital flight. Number 3 is the orbital fuel farm. Look at the size difference comparedto the suborbital fuel farmand lastly, we have the launch tower,including the orbital catch system. The infrastructure needed for the orbital flights dwarvesanything needed for suborbital flight tests. As seen from the ground by Chief on November3rd, SpaceX is in the final phaseof assembling the orbital fuel farm. The last GSE tanks are beingconnected to the system. This is where it’s located in the grand scheme. The capacity is estimated at around 2to 3 back-to-back orbital launches. Impressive. SpaceX will likely do a test run assoon as everything is finished here and afterthat it should be ready for a flight test. The same goes for Super Heavy booster 4. Theone that will hopefully give the first orbitalStarship the needed speed to reach orbit. A new Raptor boost engine has recentlybeen delivered to the launch site. It’s unknown when SpaceX wants to do a first staticfire, but it can’t be far off anymore. More and more thermal blankets have been put around allthe subsystems outside the booster’s engine section. What’s very interesting to see is thateven the quick disconnect panel,responsible for establishing a connectionfrom booster to orbital launch mountand needed for fueling, control link,and everything else such a booster needs before alaunch, has received a thermal blanket as well. It’ll be fascinating to see what sortof cover concept SpaceX has for it. Will it be able to close after ignition?What do you think, Starship experts?As always, tell me in the comments!More Booster aero covers have been deliveredto the launch site as well. These will be placed on top of theyellow thermal blankets and the booster’sengine section subsystems. Likely not the final design, they’lldo the trick for a first launch. On a Falcon 9 rocket, for example, Max Q,the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure occursat an altitude of more than 8 kilometers andat a speed of around 1000 kilometers per hour. So, the COPV tanks and other systems onthe outside of the hull are in desperateneed of protection from those forces. The heat from the engines will be a problem too. The booster will do a landing burn to deceleratewhen descending down towards thelaunch site again after the launch. The heat produced by the center engineswill engulf at least the lower partof the booster at lower altitudes. All these are reasons for thestill missing aero covers. And finally, we have ship 20 at the launchsite, undergoing static fires. SpaceX has recently installed the twomissing Raptor vacuum engines. So, there is a full complementof engines installed again. 3 times sea level and 3 times Vacuum. SpaceX also doesn’t seem to bother attaching themissing Thermal protection tiles at the moment. Likely because some fell off at the last staticfire, and SpaceX wants to wait with fixesuntil all the static fire activity is done. So, that’s it. Now you know why and how SpaceXis building the launch site the way theyare and the status of the two prototypes. It’s less complex than it seems at first. It went through several stages of construction asSpaceX needed different infrastructure for each step,and this isn’t the end of the story either. SpaceX plans a second orbital launch mount and tower anda second orbital fuel farm for future test phases. The report will go on, and we’ll be watching. Last but certainly not least, there’sone question remaining. #wenorbitActuXSpace has provided us with thelatest test date animation!Thank you, Mathis! It’s currently unknownif those dates are for static files,but we do have road closures coming up fromNovember 8th all the way to the 10th,always from 10am to 6pm local time. So, Monday to Wednesday it is!Fingers crossed for another Ship 20 static fire!There’s one more thing I’d like to point out!If you’ve watched the episode all theway up to here, chances are high thatyou’re a member of the WAI family,and this might be very important for you!I’ll be at Kennedy Space Center in November, and we’ll doa meet-up there too in Titusville and on November 21st!There’s a Twitter poll running right now toestimate as best as possible who’s coming. Vote now and let us know if you can make it!A link is in the description!Now let’s have a look at today’s sponsorand don’t click away just yet. The deal is actually pretty sweet. Whether it’s data & identity theft, traceability,intrusive advertising or geo blocking. Surfshark VPN encrypts your data and enablesyou to change your virtual location. Have you ever been greeted with a message, that thissite or video is not available in your country?Streaming services like Netflix or Disney+for example have vastly differentlibraries in different countries!Surfshark makes you outsmart them easily by removingthe so-called geo block from your account. Just activate your VPN, change your virtuallocation, refresh the page and you’re goodto go for countless more Netflix evenings!Use my code to get 83% off plus 3 extra months forfree and at the same time support What about it!?Surfshark offers a 30-day money-backguarantee so there’s no risk. Surf with your own set of rules. Link is in the description. Today’s supporter shout-out goes to PCNoob, VincentRees, Chris CHRaVeN, Albert Bishop, JeremySchmidt, John Blincow, Arthur Carty ,Michael Galloway, Joseph F Truncale,Svend Holme, and many others!You rock so incredibly much! Without you and countlessothers, we wouldn’t produce this content,so the entire team’s gratitude is yours!Make sure to hop on our supporter exclusive Discordto join more than a thousand spaceflight enthusiastsand to give me a chance to thank you in person!Today’s team shout-out goes toKevin Randolph, aka Chief. Being the second WAI cam operator on-site,you’re wholeheartedly greeted by theentire team and the entire WAI family!We hope you have a great time at Starbase,and we also can’t wait for the barbequeat Starbase in late November!Chief, you rock!