NASA managers charged with humanity’s next flight into deep space have spoken positively about the Starship’s recent test flight, the data collected, and the resulting design changes that will be incorporated into the next test launch.
While repairs to the Starbase launch site continue before the test campaign targeting orbital success continues this year, SpaceX is expected to launch a large number of Starships before entering into the Human Landing System (HLS) contract, which includes several launch vehicles and a manned lander.
SpaceX was awarded the HLS Option A contract in 2021, which calls for a demonstration of various elements of the system.
This includes docking the lander with the Orion spacecraft, transferring the crew from Orion to the lander in lunar orbit, performing an extravehicular activity after landing on the lunar surface, and returning crew and other material from the surface.
Option A included unmanned and crewed demonstration missions.
This contract followed the HLS Option B award won by SpaceX in late 2022, which covers the Artemis IV mission to the moon. NASA is set to announce a second HLS lander option “to develop a sustainable human landing system for the Artemis V Moon mission” on Friday.
NASA’s current schedule calls for an uncrewed test moon mission to launch in 2024, ahead of the Artemis III mission in 2025.
Single missions will require both a lunar rover launch and multiple spacecraft carriers to allow the former to reload into orbit prior to its flight to the moon. However, the exact number of launches needed to refuel remains unclear.
Ahead of the HLS missions, Starship has an ambitious test series in the works, now well underway thanks to the launch of Booster 7 and Ship 24.
Amit Kshatriya, deputy associate administrator for the Moon to Mars Program in the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, gave the NASA Advisory Board’s Human Exploration and Operations update this week.
“[There is] Lots of devices move through Starbase. Of course, you all know that they had a flight test. They reached about 39 kilometers in terms of aphelion before the end of the mission,” Kshatriya noted.
“We got a lot of data from that mission, and these guys are looking forward to the next ship and booster in terms of getting them together and making design changes.”
Booster 9 and a ship yet to be confirmed are set to take on the next mission, as the former is already known to have a slew of improvements over the previous booster.
“There are a lot of improvements from Booster 7 to Booster 9, literally hundreds, some significant,” Musk noted during Twitter Spaces recently. “We went from hydraulic TVC to electric from Booster 7 to Booster 9. The entire heat barrier structure on the base has been completely redesigned.”
Booster 9 is currently inside the massive bay at the Starbase production site, along with boosters and additional ships, all waiting their turn.
The launch site is the main focus of the work being done to prepare for the next test. However, one item worth noting is the flight termination system (FTS) re-certification, required after Booster 7 refused to die when the FTS was activated after it began to spin out of control late during the first stage flight.
A test likely related to this effort took place at SpaceX’s Masseys test site this week, as test tank B6 was successfully opened during the test.
Kshatriya noted, before adding that they mostly monitor and report that the SpaceX team already knows what they’re doing. “I mean, they’re very, very good. And so they sort of understand how to combine their data.”
Provision of launch position adjustments allows the platform to be rotated without the need for an extended period of repairsSpaceX could launch several Starbase flights before the end of the year.
This would pave the way for a repack test to take place before entering the HLS offering.
“They work through seepage and boil-out and how that affects the kind of fuel-gathering stage of the mission. So, I don’t want to get too far down the road in terms of, you know, talking about that until they settle into the engineering side,” Kshatriya added, adding that work is underway on Starship crew release, according to the life support system signal.
“SpaceX is an integrated partner. I got to spend 12 hours with the team in Hawthorne and see what’s going on there. I mean, in terms of Raptor production and all their ECLSS [Environmental Control and Life Support System] and other developments of the Starship”.
“I’ll tell you we are [NASA] Full partnership with them regarding how they interpret the data. I’m very confident that SpaceX is open to our input and vice versa.”
On the Raptor side, another feat was achieved recently, when the “Raptor v3” achieved a chamber pressure of 350 bar, resulting in 269 tons of thrust, on a tripod test stand at SpaceX’s McGregor test stand.
Could the Raptor 3 be a replacement for the Raptor 2, or will the vehicles require changes to meet the needs of the Raptor 3 engines?
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The Starship currently flies with Raptor v2 engines, with additional modifications – such as the electric TVC – coming online from Booster 9 onwards. However, Musk has already indicated that another upgrade is coming, often referred to as Raptor 2.5, before noting the “v3” designation for this latest test.
The main challenge for the HLS program relates to multiple agencies and vendors aligning with the Artemis schedule. Musk has previously insisted that the HLS Starship will not be a speed component. However, NASA officials cited the Apollo program as the lunar probe was not ready, which led to launches without this element.
“Because I rely on it [schedule]And, you know, we’re looking at all the options, and we’ve asked all of our contractors to bring their production as close as possible because of course we really want to do this job the way we designed it. But the other important thing, from an insurance standpoint, is to keep flying.”
“So we’re asking everyone to put together as much hardware as they can for us. And then based on where we are with the rest of production, just like they did during Apollo, downloading, doing missions when Lander wasn’t available, we’ll choose those based on what hardware is available.” .”
“That’s kind of our overall strategy, and from a production standpoint, we think it’s very important to communicate with all of our vendors, including SpaceX.”
(TOP PHOTO: Booster 7 and Ship 24 flying the Starship’s first flight. Credit: Max Evans for NSF)
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(TOP PHOTO: The spacecraft does a flip. Credit: Max Evans for NSF/L2)
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