Digital Illustration Created By: Erc X @ErcXspace via Twitter.
The founder and Chief Engineer at SpaceX Elon Musk shared this week that SpaceX teams in South Texas will complete the construction of the next Starship prototype, known as SN8, soon. Starship SN8 will be the first stainless-steel test vehicle that will be fully assembled, featuring a top nose cone section and aerodynamic fins – that look like the spacecraft's original design, as pictured above. The company is building multiple prototypes at the Boca Chica assembly facility, where two test vehicles, SN5 and SN6, have already completed low-altitude test flights. These vehicles did not look like a spacecraft, they looked like a shiny cylinder structure tank, with a square mass simulator atop, pictured below. Each lifted off 150-meters off the ground and conducted vertical landings at the launch pad powered by a single methane-fueled Raptor engine. Starship SN8 will be the first test vehicle - that looks like a spaceship - to attempt a higher altitude test flight of around 20-kilometers (km), equivalent to 60,000 feet (ft)!
The Starship family just keeps growing at SpaceX Boca Chica. SN6, SN5, SN8 and the first section of SN9 has been stacked in the mid bay. 🤩🚀@NASASpaceflight https://t.co/9sTD7p0vVz pic.twitter.com/k8w1IMEWGg— Mary (@BocaChicaGal) September 13, 2020
Starship SN8’s test flight will differ in many ways from the previous launches. During flight, Sn8 will liftoff powered by a trio of powerful Raptor engines; It will attempt to dive through the sky in a ‘belly flop’ fashion, and land vertically. This feat has not been attempted by the company before. A SpaceX Engineer Lars Blackmore, who is known for working on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 revolutionary rocket landing system, said – “If this works, it’ll be the craziest piece of rocket gymnastics since landing Falcon 9.” The Falcon 9 is the only orbital-class rocket in the world capable of lifting payload to orbit and returning from space, it lands vertically powered by Merlin engines that feature well-controlled propulsion technology. It is perhaps, one of the greatest technological advancements SpaceX has introduced to the aerospace industry.
If this works, it’ll be the craziest piece of rocket gymnastics since landing Falcon 9 https://t.co/U1yAZpc0vl— Lars Blackmore (@larsblackmore) September 12, 2020
Starship SN8 could be ready to take flight in just a couple of weeks. “SN8 Starship with flaps and nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60,000 ft. and back,” Musk announced SpaceX’s plans this week. According to a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing by SpaceX, the company seeks to conduct a test flight sometime after October 11. Each test flight takes engineers closer towards launching a Starship to space. Musk said the first orbital flight attempt will “Probably [be] next year.” He has mentioned on several occasions developing rockets and reaching orbit is hard and that it will take ‘hundreds’ of flights before Starship is ready to launch humans aboard. “I hope we do a lot of flights. The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory,” he added, “Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket.” SpaceX’s first Starship passenger, fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, booked a journey around the moon scheduled for the year 2023. Testing is expected to pick up pace at Boca Chica where Musk expects to make launching test vehicles routine to speed up the development of Starship.