Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Road Closures at Boca Chica May Not be For Any Flying Vehicles

During Monday's road closures that I talked about on Saturday, what they rolled to the launch complex area was a new thing and not anything I expected.  For the first time, it appears that SpaceX has built a test version of the several tanks they've built for Ground Support Equipment something they've never done before

Known as a ‘test tank,’ the relatively small steel structure was fairly rapidly assembled from parts of an older Ground Support Equipment (GSE) tank scrapped in July over the last week or so. SpaceX completed the first Starship-derived propellant storage tank in April 2021 and rapidly rolled that tank (GSE1) and a second (GSE2) from the build site to the orbital launch pad just a few weeks apart. Less than a month after that, SpaceX also completed GSE tank #3, though things seemingly devolved into chaos immediately thereafter.

Only three months later would GSE3 finally be transported to – and installed on a concrete mount at – Starship’s first orbital launch site, and only after a number of structural modifications and in the footsteps of GSE tanks #5 and #6. Little is known about why SpaceX’s custom GSE tank production faltered so soon after it began, why none of the five Starship-sized tanks installed at the orbital pad have been fully plumbed or subjected to any kind of testing, or why structural modifications were seemingly required after the fact. However, it’s safe to say that SpaceX’s brand new GSE ‘test tank’ is now at the center of the mystery.

The test tank being rolled into the launch complex, passing "Hoppy," the first of the Starship prototypes to take a 500 ft hop, August 27, 2019.  Photo credit listed in the picture, to @bocachicagal at NASASpaceflight.com.  

All of this leads me to speculate that there might well be tests of this test tank during the road closures Wednesday and Thursday evening, 5 to11 PM CDT (Tuesday's road closures were cancelled) and no tests of Booster 4 (B4) or Starship 20 (S20).  Considering how much of this GSE infrastructure SpaceX has built without going through testing like this, it seems like there would have to be a lot of rebuilding if they find their tanks aren't up to the job.




  1. The local news cast (KRGV) had a piece last night about employees of Space X taking pictures of nearby structures. Due to the number of much larger Raptor engines about to be fired off, Space X is concerned pf damage de to the pressures generated. Particulary glass, which may shatter or become cracked.


  2. Interesting. Thank you for the update. It would be nice to be a fly on the wall inside SpaceX.

    1. I keep thinking it would be a very interesting place to work for a while. Then I remind myself I'm retired and lie down until the feeling goes away.

  3. Wondering what the external pressures the tanks (and covers) can take. We know they take into consideration internal pressures, and probably vacuum number, but vacuum isn't external forces per se. What's the force of a booster exploding, and will the tanks in that proximity handle it? Force of a metric shit-newton of engines going balls to the wall, and are they directing it away from the tanks? Will the entire site go up if something happens on the pad? Are the tanks and their covers capable of handling the pressures? I'm sure smarter folks than me have at least voiced it...at least I'd hope so.

    1. I've seen a few people commenting on this, but no real answers. I think the tanks are never pressurized to more than 7 bar (~100 PSI), and maybe never more than 6 bar (~87). I have no real answers to what they could survive.

      I mostly watch the Lab Padre cameras and the views from remote cameras with telephoto lenses are distorted so we (or I) can't judge how far apart things are. Compare the view from Nerdle CAM with the perspective from a very different angle from Sapphire Cam.

      From the first, everything looks to be right on top of each other. S20 is right next to the big tanks. In the second you see that S20 and the big tanks are really very far from each other.

      In both views, the GSE tanks look close to the orbital launch pad, but are they really? Could they be spread out along a different direction? I don't know.

    2. Right sidebar, look for this guy. Weekly flyovers of both the lab side and the launch side. Perfect for getting a scale of everything combined.

  4. Off topic, but have you seen this?