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SpaceX begins filling tanks at Starship orbital launchpad

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has begun the process of filling the many tanks at its Starship orbital launchpad in Boca Chica, requiring more than a hundred truck deliveries of nitrogen (for cleaning the interior of the tanks as well as cooling the propellants) and oxygen.

In mid-September, SpaceX began delivering cryogenic fluids to Starbase’s orbital tank farm for the first time ever. Instead of propellant, dozens of tanker trucks delivered liquid nitrogen to one or two of the farm’s tanks between mid-September and mid-October. Altogether, around 40-60 truckloads was delivered – only enough to partially fill one tank. That liquid nitrogen also appeared to be piped into two of the farm’s three liquid oxygen tanks, meaning that it may have only been used to clean and proof test them.

Combined, the farm’s seven main tanks should be able to store roughly 2400 tons (5.3M lb) of liquid methane (LCH4), 5400 tons (12M lb) of liquid oxygen (LOx), and 2600 tons (5.7M lb) of liquid nitrogen (LN2). LCH4 and LOx are Starship’s propellant, while LN2 is needed to ‘subcool’ that propellant below its boiling point, significantly increasing its density and the mass of propellant Starships can store.

It appears that while SpaceX has begun storing oxygen, it has not yet begun loading its methane tanks. When that fuel begins arriving we will know that an orbital launch of Starship is imminent.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • Jeff Wright

    Greens might try a White Heat moment.

  • Steve Richter

    on the subject of the FAA delaying launches, what if SpaceX builds an operates a 2nd launch site in a 2nd state? To defer the cost, provide fuel, launch tower and vehicle services to any company that has a rocket. Then the politicians, voters and business groups in each state can pressure the FAA, independent of SpaceX ,to allow launches. It would be untenable for the FAA to have a block on 1 state and not the other. And equally difficult for them to face the pressure for blocking launches from two or more states. ( better yet, build the launch facility right on a state border. Two states, 4 senators could force the FAA to get lost. )

  • TL

    This is one of those aspects of space flight that is underappreciated by casual rocketry fans. The logistics that go into filling tank farms for regular flights looks impressive. Any idea how far they have to truck it? Seems like it would make sense to produce the liquid nitrogen and oxygen on site and deliver to storage via pipeline.

  • Jeff Wright

    Elon needs to come to Mobile.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Steve R – While the idea of 2X pressure on FAA is an appealing thought, it seems like Musk abandoned that idea several years ago when he seemed to have two sites, Florida and Texas each building a Starship. Your remarks feed my obsession that perhaps Musk would have been better to concentrate Starship launch facilities at Cape Kennedy.

    I can only imagine the amount of money Musk is spending on Starship, so doubling the cost of base construction seems like it might have Musk’s accountant plotting murder against the proposing good idea fairy.

    I am hopeful (for no particular reason) that the FAA will announce its decision (good or bad) soon.

  • Jay

    There a three big LOX producers outside and around of Houston. They probably truck that in since Boca Chica is 300 miles away from Houston.
    As for the kerosene, they have that on tap on all the kitchen sinks in Texas: Hot, Cold, Crude, and Kerosene.

  • Andi

    Small bit of pedantry: the Florida location is the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The Cape got renamed back in the ‘70s

  • pawn

    TL-Our cryo supplier stopped in to talk the other day. He said there is a big squeeze going on in the LOX market due to the extra demand at hospitals due to the Covid. Plants are working overtime but the pinch point is delivery. There’s only so many LOX tanker trailers available and that is the pinch point.

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