Featured Image Source: SpaceX / 2019
SpaceX was founded to make life multi-planetary. The rocket company is in the process of developing a Starship that will one day enable life on Mars. Starship will be a gigantic stainless-steel vehicle capable of conducting long-duration voyages with one hundred passengers aboard. A new ‘Starship user guide’ released by SpaceX, provides insight into the craft’s future capabilities. “SpaceX’s Starship system represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to service Earth orbit needs as well as missions to the Moon and Mars. This two-stage vehicle—composed of the Super Heavy rocket (booster) and Starship (spacecraft) —is powered by sub-cooled methane and oxygen,” it reads. Starship’s Super Heavy rocket will only be needed to take the ship out of Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket would return to Earth, like the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, to be reused. According to Starship’s user guide, the final version of Starship will be capable of transporting one hundred passengers and over 100 tons of cargo. "Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites." The spacecraft is under development at the company’s South Texas facility located in Brownsville, Boca Chica Beach, TX. SpaceX engineers are manufacturing a production line of many stainless-steel Starships, to test out different features.
The founder and chief engineer at SpaceX, Elon Musk, aims to scale up production to build at least one Starship prototype per week. He says, “A high production rate solves many ills. If you have a high production rate, you have a high iteration rate.” A high production rate will enable them to test and innovate quicker. Currently, they are building the fourth Starship prototype, referred to as, Starship SN4. Engineers aim to develop a craft that could withstand high stress of pressurized propellant and flight. Previous prototypes, SN1 and SN3 collapsed during cryogenic pressurization tests this year, in January and early April. Musk joked after a test failure, “Where’s the Flextape when you need it!?”
Starship is in its early phase of development; test failures are expected. Each prototype test provides SpaceX engineers with important insight on how to improve the craft. Regarding the failures, Musk stated via Twitter:
“Production is by *far* the hard part. That’s why I’m not super worried about early Starship failures. Initial serial numbers are suboptimal, so would be lawn ornaments if they survived. That said, as lawn ornaments go, they’re pretty sweet…”
Production is by *far* the hard part. That’s why I’m not super worried about early Starship failures. Initial serial numbers are suboptimal, so would be lawn ornaments if they survived. That said, as lawn ornaments go, they’re pretty sweet …— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 16, 2020
SN4 is actively under assembly, it will be transported to the launch pad soon to undergo a series of pressurization tests. If the tests go well, the craft is expected to conduct a debut test flight of 150 meters with one to three sea level-optimized Raptor engines. The company aims to conduct a 20-kilometer flight and an orbital attempt over 100 kilometers this year. An orbital flight would require testing out 6 Raptor engines, 3 of those are vacuum-optimized nozzles for space.
“I have great respect for anyone who gets a rocket to orbit! It’s very hard. I’m spending crazy hours on Starship design/production. It is truly an honor to work with such great engineers. SN4 is almost done.”
“I have great respect for anyone who gets a rocket to orbit! It’s very hard. I’m spending crazy hours on Starship design/production. It is truly an honor to work with such great engineers. SN4 is almost done,” Musk said on Wednesday (April 15). Boca Chica residents shared a video of Starship’s construction progress. The SN4 vehicle is already undergoing final stacking operations inside a Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Boca Chica (video above).
Starship’s design includes landing legs and aerodynamic fins. Musk shared future iterations of Starship will feature fins during test flights, “SN4 won’t get flaps, so can only do flights with engine on. Just did a reset this week on flap, actuator & static aero design. Either SN5 or SN6 will get flaps.” In December, Musk said he foresees building around 20 Starship prototypes, each featuring “minor improvements” to test out. Each test takes SpaceX closer towards developing a space-ready Starship.