Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now installed 29 Raptor engines on the fourth Superheavy prototype, intended to be the first to attempt an orbital launch, even as the company also prepares Starship prototype #20 for that flight.
In a marked increase to the already-impressive production cadence at SpaceX Starbase, it’s all hands on deck with Booster 4 and Ship 20 preparations ahead of the duo being sent to the launch site. Booster 4 was stacked on Sunday, with all 29 Raptors installed by Monday morning. While the orbital launch attempt is not imminent, the duo is expected to undergo a series of ground testing objectives, including multiple Static Fire tests for the booster. This will also provide time to complete the final elements of the Orbital Launch Site (OLS), from which the duo will conduct the milestone test flight.
Following a short ground testing campaign with Booster 3, which included cryo proofing and a three-engine Static Fire test, the focus is now on what will become the first integrated stack of a Super Heavy booster and a Starship vehicle. This is set to be achieved in double-quick time, following a call to arms from SpaceX to its workforce. This included the transportation of hundreds of workers from other sites in the country, as per a memo leaked on Facebook.
As predicted, SpaceX did not succeed in launching Superheavy/Starship on its first orbital test flight in August. However, as predicted the company is clearly pushing to attempt that flight before the end of the summer. Right now, based on the pace of operations, what has been accomplished, and what needs to be accomplished, I estimate that flight will likely occur sometime around late September to early October.
It also seems very obvious that SpaceX is trying very hard to beat SLS into orbit. If successful, it will underline most starkly the difference between free enterprise and government operations. The former got it done in about four years, for less than $6 billion. The latter has taken seventeen years, and about $60 billion, and has still not launched.
And even if SLS launches first, that contrast remains.
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