Featured Image Source: Elon Musk
Starship is SpaceX's next-generation vehicle, under development at SpaceX South Texas in Boca Chica beach. The rocket company's ultimate mission is to transform humans into a multi-planet species. So far, three stainless-steel prototypes of the craft have been manufactured to conduct a series of pressurization tests. SpaceX aims to perform a debut test flight with a fully-assembled Starship this year. The fourth prototype of Starship, referred to as SN4, is now under construction. This comes after a destructive pressurization test of the SN3 prototype. SN4 will incorporate all lessons learned from previous tests to improve the vehicle before it takes flight.
VIDEO: Starship SN4 Assemble! Lots of steel ring walking at SpaceX Boca Chica as one of the bulkheads is flipped ahead of stacking and integration operations.— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) April 5, 2020
Video and Photos via Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)https://t.co/m88t7NWqhG
SpaceX Boca Chica teams are building an entire production line of Starships. Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer at SpaceX, aims to have a factory workforce capable of manufacturing a Starship per week, eventually one every seventy-two hours. Musk envisions a fleet of hundreds of Starships embarking on voyages to Mars one day. The final version of Starship will be capable of carrying one hundred passengers, plus one hundred tons of cargo.
Starship will be a fully-reusable, two-stage craft that consists of a spaceship and a Super Heavy rocket booster. The Super Heavy rocket booster will only be used to carry Starship out of Earth's atmosphere into orbit. It would return from space to land on a spaceport at sea, in order to be reused. Similar to the Falcon 9 rocket recovery system. Starship and Super Heavy are powered by Raptors, a new type of rocket engine developed and manufactured by SpaceX. Each Raptor is 1.3 meters in diameter, with a height of 3.1 meters. Unlike the company's other rockets, which are powered by Kerosene and liquid oxygen, Raptors are a full-flow, staged-combustion engine powered by a combination of cryogenic methane (CH4) and cryogenic liquid oxygen (LOX) -a true innovation in the aerospace industry. "Other rocket engines were designed for no, or almost no reuse," Musk said last year, "Raptor is designed for heavy and immediate reuse, like an aircraft jet engine, with inspections required only after many flights, assuming instrumentation shows it good."
Raptors pic.twitter.com/oycjgNI8HE— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
Musk shared a photograph of 3 Raptor engines last night, via Twitter. These engines are expected to be integrated to a Starship prototype that will take flight in Texas. The first test flight is expected to be a low-altitude launch of approximately 150 meters, followed by a higher altitude flight of 20 kilometers.
The Raptor engine is special, designed to give astronauts the option to return to Earth from Mars. Since, Raptors are fueled by a combination of methane plus liquid oxygen, future Martians could dig subsurface water-ice and capture carbon dioxide from the Red Planet's atmosphere, to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen by using using electrolysis and the Sabatier process to create fuel.
Starship will be powered by 6 Raptors, including 3 sea level Raptors designed for atmospheric flight, and 3 vacuum optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. Each Raptor engine could produce over 200 tons of thrust at full throttle. The Super Heavy rocket will be powered by 37 Raptor engines with thrust capability of approximately 72 meganewtons (MN). This would make SpaceX's Starship the world's most powerful rocket. For perspective, the rocket that took humans to the moon during NASA's Apollo mission, Saturn V, produced 35 MN of thrust.
We will witness the power of 3 Raptor engines this year, when SpaceX takes a Starship prototype on a debut test flight. Guaranteed to be exciting!