Image Source: Elon Musk
Elon Musk envisions a future where humans live in a spacefaring civilization, he founded SpaceX in hopes of making it a reality. SpaceX is actively developing new technology to enable life on the Moon and Mars. They are in the early phase of developing a Starship that will be capable of carrying one hundred passengers and tons of cargo on long space voyages among the stars. Starship will become the world's most powerful spaceship-rocket duo ever built.
The company has been building prototypes for of Starship for a year to test their next generation rocket engine, the Raptor, as well as everything that is involved in building a massive stainless-steel spacecraft structure. They have successfully preformed several flights with a scaled down version of Starship, called Starhopper and preformed several pressurization tests on another prototype, called Starship Mk1. Read more: A look back at SpaceX's 2019 Starship Development in Texas.
Starhopper and Starship Mk1 prototypes.
Image Source: Elon Musk and @JaneidyEve
Now SpaceX teams are working on building the flight version of Starship at their South Texas facility located in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Texas. Musk wrote via Twitter:
"We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0."
We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 28, 2019
This next production line is referred to as Starship Version 1.0 Serial Number 1, or Starship V1.0/SN1 for short. They could build about 20 crafts of this version to figure out what works best as they learn from the manufacturing and testing process they could incorporate some minor changes needed towards improving the craft. So, the first 20 Starships Version 1.0 will feature changes different from one another. This version will perform higher altitude sub-orbital flight tests, they also hope to also conduct an orbital flight before the end of next year. The first Starship SN1 test flight will take place in Texas, approximately 2 or 3 months from now.
Musk has been working alongside SpaceX engineers and mechanics in South Texas for several days and nights. On Friday, December 27, he shared a video saying he pulled off an all nighter working on building the most difficult part of the craft, a stainless-steel tank dome structure, he wrote:
"Was up all night with SpaceX team working on Starship tank dome production (most difficult part of primary structure), Dawn arrives..."
At midnight (local time) a day before New Year's Eve, Musk shared a video of him still working on Starship’s assembly progress. There's no doubt that SpaceX teams have been working very hard for the last couple of days. They have already built three shiny stainless-steel tank domes, also known as bulk heads, Musk said:
"Almost three now. Boca team is crushing it! Starship has a giant dome"
Almost three now. Boca team is crushing it! Starship has giant dome 🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/qTN2TU02pb— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
These domes are part of Starship’s internal structure, they will keep the craft stable enough to hold internal hardware, withstand highly pressurized propellant tanks, and make the craft strong enough to endure extreme forces during flight. It is the most difficult part of the craft to build because they must make the bulk heads light enough to not add too much weight to the craft but strong enough to endure heavy gravity forces during launches also the fury of a fiery orbital reentry.
This new craft that’s under assembly, Starship SN1, is different than their previous Starship prototypes of the ‘MK’ series. The bulk heads in the Starship Mk series were manually bump formed versus the new flight version in Starship SN1 the bulk heads are stamped shaped, welded with higher precision. He explained:
"Almost everything is different. These parts are stamped vs manually bump-formed & TIP TIG welded vs flux core. Higher precision, stronger joints & 20% mass reduction."
Best would probably be an autogenous laser weld, but we need more precise parts & fixtures. Hopefully get that done in 2020.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
A couple of months ago, the Starship Mk1 prototype blew its top dome out during cryogenic testing, which involves pressuring the craft to the max to check for any leaks and see how much force the stainless-steel structure could withstand, but these were crafted manually so Starship SN1 should be stronger than Mk1 during testing.
Also, Starship SN1 will use autogenous pressurization from the start, unlike Starship Mk1.
No, will be autogenous from the start, tapping hot CH4 & O2 from Raptor— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
Starship features aerodynamic fins and steerable flaps, SpaceX engineers will use light-weight Tesla Plaid motors and batteries to control and power Starship SN1’s flaps. Musk said Starship's rear flaps will need ~1.5 megawatts of power in order to be steered.
Direct drive using several Tesla Plaid motors in parallel for SN1. Simpler, lighter & more fault tolerant. Rear flaps each need ~1.5 megawatts. It’s like moving the entire wing of an aircraft!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
We will sure see the pace of work continue to pick up at Boca Chica in the coming months before Starship V1.0/SN1 debut flight takes place. The city's website already announced a future road closure at Boca Chica, scheduled for January 6. When roads are closed, it means SpaceX will perform some vital work.
With their hard work and dedication SpaceX will develop a Starship that will one day change the course of humanity's future forever!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.