Less than a week ago, on May 5th, SpaceX launched Starship SN15 on a test flight under cloudy skies at the Starbase launch pad in South Texas. The 50-meter-tall stainless-steel vehicle soared around 10-kilometers above the sandy Boca Chica beach village, successfully completing an aerodynamic flight under foggy weather conditions. SpaceX showcased its engineering talent as Starship SN15 landed nominally without exploding like its predecessors. SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that SN15 features ‘hundreds of design improvements’ compared to previous prototypes of the spacecraft. A couple of days after the successful flight test, Musk said that they “Might try to refly SN15 soon.” Conducting a second flight could provide engineers valuable data towards developing a reusable spacecraft.
On Tuesday, May 11, SpaceX workers started to move Starship SN15 from the landing pad towards a nearby test mount at the launch pad, known as ‘Pad B.’ This suggests that there could be a potential reflight of the vehicle while the next prototype in the series - SN16 - completes assembly down the road at the rocket factory. Local Boca Chica village residents captured photos of the giant SN15 vehicle moved to the test stand location where engineers are expected to perform pre-flight preparations (pictured below). In the days ahead, we could see a crane lift Starship SN15 up onto the mount on Pad B.
Before soaring into the sky again, Starship SN15 must pass a series of pre-flight tests that will determine if the vehicle can withstand a second launch. Its unclear if SpaceX will initiate these tests soon, nor what kind of refurbishment the vehicle will need before launching. The first test will likely be a proof test to determine if the stainless-steel structure is strong enough to withstand the pressure it would experience during its flight. A cryogenic proof test, in which engineers load the vehicle with sub-chilled liquid nitrogen could also help them see whether SN15 has any structural damage and leaks. If the proof testing goes well, SpaceX is expected to conduct another static-ignition test of SN15’s three methane-fueled Raptor engines to assess their performance. After passing these tests, Starship SN15 could fly a second time. You can follow SpaceX’s Starship development progress in the 24/7 Live broadcast below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX