Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises

The new Raptor factory is now rising out of the ground at SpaceX’s Rocket Development… The post Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises appeared first on

Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises

The new Raptor factory is now rising out of the ground at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. Tasked with supplying Raptor 2 engines to the Starship Program, SpaceX is laying the foundations for its rapidly reusable rocket.

With the Launch Tower in the process of gaining its “Mechazilla” stacking and catching arms – a key part of recovering Super Heavy and Starships, along with their engines – numerous future vehicles are being staged at the Production Site ahead of a busy 2022.

The immediate focus is on Ship 20, with its Static Fire test currently scheduled for this week.

Ship 20 and Booster 4:

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  • Following a successful proof testing campaign for Ship 20, the next milestone will be loading LOX (Liquid Oxygen) and CH4 (Liquid Methane) for a Static Fire test.

    The fine details of Ship 20’s testing have not been revealed, with this vehicle being the first to sport three Raptor Vacuum (RVac) engines. To date, RVacs have only been fired up individually at McGregor.

    The upcoming test – currently set for No Earlier Than (NET) Wednesday and still subject to change  – will likely involve the three sea-level Raptors.

    Ship 20’s full engine set involves RC69, RC73, and RC78, with RC standing for Raptor Center. RV4, RV5, and RV6 are the RVacs assigned to Ship 20.

    RVac installation was taking place on Monday.

    During the initial Static Fire test, one key test objective will focus on the Thermal Protection System (TPS), which suffered a minor liberation caused by the Header Tank venting. The vibrations of the engine’s firing will provide additional data points on how well the TPS has been applied and secured to the vehicle.

    Booster 4 is waiting in line for its own proof testing and Static Fires, although this is not likely to occur until November.

    With its 29 engines, Booster 4’s Static Fire campaign will likely involve several ignitions with an increasing number of engines.

    Booster 3, 4 and Ship 20 at the OLS, via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

    The Super Heavy was removed from its Orbital Launch Site (OLS) mount to allow for the installation of “Mechazilla” hardware to the Launch Tower.


    Progress towards giving the Launch Tower its arms has been made over recent days, with the carriage system moved over to a new staging point at the Orbital Launch Site (OLS).

    This set the scene for the lift and move of the first “chopstick” arm for installation onto the carriage. The second arm was also moved over on Monday.

    Once both arms are secured to the carriage, the entire system will be hoisted onto the Tower. This event will set the stage for its first operation, likely to involve Booster 4 being lifted onto the mount.

    Should the system require additional work, the LR 11350 crane – nicknamed “Frankencrane” by SpaceX employees – could still be used.

    While Booster 4 and Ship 20’s return points will be into the ocean, Elon Musk hopes for the first catch to occur during Booster 5’s return to the launch site.

    Future Vehicles:

    Booster 5 is already being stacked inside the High Bay, following the usual Starbase path of having the next vehicle ready to head to the launch site soon after the previous has launched.

    Booster 5 in the High Bay via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

    Its grid fins have already arrived and are being prepared for installation. This process took place after the Booster completed stacking operations during Booster 4’s High Bay processing flow.

    Ship 21 is making good progress around the Production Area, with sections being prepared for stacking, a process that will take place inside the since-vacated Mid Bay. The rollout of GSE-8 to the Tank Farm has created room for Ship 21’s stacking to occur.

    With numerous sections sporting a full coat of TPS, the nosecone for Ship 21 is already following that same path, with tiles being applied inside one of the “Big Tents.”

    Sections for Ship 22 have also been observed, with the Common Dome Section spotted inside Tent 1.

    Meanwhile, the Thrust Pucks for boosters down the pecking order have also been arriving into Starbase, including the first to host the expanded capability of 33 Raptors.

    McGregor Factory:

    All these Raptor engines arrive at Starbase after having been processed at SpaceX’s McGregor test site.

    Currently, the engines are assembled at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, before taking a road trip to Texas for hot-fire testing on one of five available test stands.

    All five Raptor Test Stands (Tripod, Original Stand (2 bays) and New Stand (2 bays) via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

    Elon Musk had already noted that Raptor production would increase, aided by a new factory at the McGregor facility, allowing Hawthorne to focus on RVacs and new design evolutions for the Methalox powerhouse.

    This allows McGregor to produce the main stock of Raptor 2 engines to cater for a large number of Boosters and Starships, each requiring 36 Raptor 2s in total, based on the 33 on the Booster and three on the Starship (along with three RVacs).

    With groundwork observed by Gary Blair over recent weeks (via his plane passes for NSF/L2), the latest pass noted the framework of the factory is now being assembled.

    Raptor 2 Factory via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

    While this factory will still be some time away from assembling Raptor 2s, Hawthorne is already building the streamlined version of the Raptor, with the McGregor test stands being worked on in preparation for test firings.

    Centralizing Raptor production and testing at McGregor will also streamline the flow of Raptors to Starbase, removing the California-to-Texas leg for all engines except for the RVacs.

    Also, this production increase provided a fascinating scenario of how many Raptors SpaceX will require in circulation, given the full reusability of the Starship system. A large stock of Raptors points to a huge fleet of vehicles, as Musk has always envisioned.

    Photos and videos provided by Nic Ansuini (@nicansuini) and Mary (@bocachicagal). Additional information and article assistance provided by the NSF (L2 Level) Discord.

    For live updates, follow NASASpaceFlight’s Twitter account and the NSF Starship Forum Sections.

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    As Martian spacecraft experience solar conjunction, Perseverance confirms Jezero Crater’s watery past

    On October 2, 2021, all actively operating spacecraft at Mars ceased major communication with Earth… The post As Martian spacecraft experience solar conjunction, Perseverance confirms Jezero Crater’s watery past appeared first on

    As Martian spacecraft experience solar conjunction, Perseverance confirms Jezero Crater’s watery past

    On October 2, 2021, all actively operating spacecraft at Mars ceased major communication with Earth as the planet entered its solar conjunction — an event wherein Mars crosses behind the Sun, limiting communication with Earth.

    As this began, NASA’s Perseverance rover’s science team released a new paper detailing the water-filled past of Jezero Crater — the location Perseverance is currently investigating.

    Mars solar conjunction

    From Earth, Mars passes behind the Sun in an event called Mars solar conjunction. During this, Mars and Earth are opposite each other with the Sun between them.

    Communication with spacecraft can be difficult with the Sun in the way, so spacecraft at Mars are commanded to cease any major communication with Earth for a brief two-week period — the length of solar conjunction.

    Additionally, ionized gas released by the Sun can interfere with radio signals, corrupting commands. These corrupted commands can cause a spacecraft to exhibit unexpected — and sometimes dangerous — behavior.

    Illustration showing Mars solar conjunction. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    During solar conjunction occurs, some spacecraft will send small, brief signals back to Earth to let scientists know that they’re still in good health.

    However, just because major communication with Earth is halted does not mean Martian spacecraft stop collecting science.

    While stationary for the conjunction, Perseverance is using its Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument to take weather measurements in Jezero Crater. Additionally, the rover is looking for dust devils with cameras on its mast, running the Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) instrument, and recording sounds with its microphones.

    The Ingenuity rotorcraft, currently located 175 meters from Perseverance, is communicating with the rover and reporting its status weekly.

    Curiosity, that is currently exploring the slopes of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater, will stay stationary as well and, like Perseverance, will take weather measurements using its Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument.

    Furthermore, Curiosity will take radiation measurements with its Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instruments while also looking for dust devils with its cameras.

    InSight, which recently recorded three large Marsquakes and celebrated its 1,000th Sol (Martian day) in Elysium Planitia, will continue listening for other large Marsquakes with its seismometer during the solar conjunction.

    Lastly, NASA’s three operating Mars orbiters — Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and MAVEN — will continue to collect science of their own while in orbit.

    The orbiters will continue to send some data to Earth from surface missions when needed.

    This year’s Mars solar conjunction will end on October 14. Nominal communications with all spacecraft are expected to resume on that day as well.

    Perseverance confirms Jezero’s watery past

    Jezero Crater, Perseverance’s landing and research location, has long been thought to be the home of ancient flowing water. Clues and hints to its watery past have been found by Perseverance and orbiting spacecraft, but new images from the rover seem to confirm that Jezero was once subject to significant flooding.

    Specifically, images of escarpments — steep slopes formed from sediment accumulating at the mouth of a river — show that Jezero Crater’s fan-shaped delta once experienced late-stage flooding events in Mars’ past.

    These floods are what likely shaped many of the rocks, debris, and other surface features seen in Jezero today.

    Perseverance’s team has long planned to visit the river delta in Jezero, and the new images are the beginning of a full investigation into the possibility that microbial life once lived in ancient Jezero’s river delta.

    The images are part of a study released by the Perseverance science team and were captured using the rover’s Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) as well as the left and right Mastcam-Z cameras.

    In addition to their scientific value, the images highlight potential areas where the rover could collect future surface samples — which Perseverance successfully did for the first time a few weeks back.

    One prominent feature in the images is called “Kodiak,” one of many outcroppings in Jezero Crater. Kodiak had previously only been imaged from orbit, but when Perseverance arrived in February and imaged the outcrop, significant rock layering and ordering — or stratigraphy — was seen, indicating that the outcrop was intact and present when the river delta featured flowing water.

    “Never before has such well-preserved stratigraphy been visible on Mars. This is the key observation that enables us to once and for all confirm the presence of a lake and river delta at Jezero,” said Nicolas Mangold, lead author of the study and a Perseverance scientist from the Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique in Nantes, France.

    Kodiak as seen from Perseverance on Feb. 22, 2021. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    However, the biggest surprise to scientists came in the form of several escarpments, or scarps, along the river delta.

    The scarps imaged by Perseverance showed stratigraphy that was similar to Kodiak; however, as the rover’s cameras imaged the upper portions of the scarps, boulders and stones were seen resting there as well.

    “We saw distinct layers in the scarps containing boulders up to 1.5 meters across that we knew had no business being there,” said Mangold.

    So what is the significance of boulders and stones resting on these scarps?

    The rocks atop the scarps could have only been placed there by fast-moving waters — like a flash flood moving at speeds ranging from 6-30 kph.

    What’s more, the layers in the scarps mean that Jezero’s river delta had to have been transformed by fast-moving flash floods like the ones that placed the rocks on the scarps.

    “These results also have an impact on the strategy for the selection of rocks for sampling,” said Sanjeev Gupta, co-author of the new study and a Perseverance scientist from Imperial College, London.

    “The finest-grained material at the bottom of the delta probably contains our best bet for finding evidence of organics and biosignatures. And the boulders at the top will enable us to sample old pieces of crustal rocks. Both are main objectives for sampling and caching rocks before Mars Sample Return.”

    Perseverance image showing rock layering in enscarpment “Scarp a.” (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    However, the floods of Jezero weren’t the only waters present during Mars’ ancient past.

    Jezero is thought to have once been an ancient lake as well.

    The study from Mangold et al. adds more to this theory, describing how the water levels in Jezero’s lake are thought to have fluctuated greatly — rising and falling by dozens of meters — before the lake eventually dried up.

    Due to this, the lake is thought to have risen enough to crest the crater’s eastern rim, where orbital imagery shows a remnant outflow river channel.

    Although scientists are so far unable to pinpoint whether flooding or environmental changes caused these water level fluctuations, the Perseverance science team has determined they occurred late in Jezero’s water-filled past.

    “A better understanding of Jezero’s delta is a key to understanding the change in hydrology for the area,” said Gupta. “And it could potentially provide valuable insights into why the entire planet dried out.”

    Perseverance is expected to arrive at Jezero’s delta at the beginning of 2022 where it will then begin the second science campaign of its mission.

    (Lead image: Perseverance takes a selfie with rock “Rochette.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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