Featured Image Source: @SpacePadreIsle via Twitter.
The SpaceX South Texas facility in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, TX. is making significant progress in building a production line of Starships. The founder and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, Elon Musk, aims to speed up the development of the next-generation rocket-spaceship duo, “A high production rate solves many ills. If you have a high production rate, you have a high iteration rate. For pretty much any technology whatsoever, the progress is a function of how many iterations do you have, and how much progress do you make between each iteration. If you have a high production rate then you have many iterations. You can make progress from one to the next," he said in February. Since then, the assembly facility has built several Starship prototypes that underwent destructive pressure tests. The company is currently working on Starship SN4, the fourth prototype assembled this year that will undergo a series of pressurization tests. One of the tests will involve cryogenic pressurization, in which the craft is filled up with sub-cooled liquid nitrogen, to determine if the stainless-steel structure can withstand high pressure. The test also serves to determine the weld quality strength ahead of flight. Starship needs to withstand a pressure in between ~6 and ~8.5 bar strength; a ~6 bar is needed for orbital flight and ~8.5 bar is needed for crewed flights. SN4 was transported to the launch pad this week; awaiting testing (video below).
Yesterday, during a Hack Club AMA ‘Ask Me Anything’ interview, Musk shared the Starship SN4 cryogenic pressure test could take place today, Saturday, April 25. The Cameron County website announces road closures when SpaceX will conduct major testing. Currently, there is a closure scheduled for today, starting at 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. CDT. With a backup date planned for April 26, from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. CDT. (local time).
If the test goes smoothly, the prototype will be the first one that does not destroy during pressurization this year. The Starship SN1 and SN3 prototypes collapsed during cryogenic proof testing. Though, a destructive test is not particularly a failure nor a bad thing, because it serves as a manufacturing pathfinder and it is how engineers improve their work. Musk says he isn’t worried about early Starship failures. “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…” –Though, A successful pressure test will bring the company closer to taking a prototype on a test flight. If SN4 survives pressurization, SpaceX is expected to conduct a 150-meter flight test above Boca Chica Beach, followed by a 20-kilometer test, likely conducted by a new prototype. It would be the first time SpaceX tests a fully assembled Starship vehicle.
Starship SN4 is undergoing preparations for its first tests this evening, as the next prototype Starship SN5 is actively under construction. Residents have been documenting the craft’s assembly progress, shown in the videos above. SpaceX eventually aims to build at least one Starship per week to speed up the craft’s development. Musk sees a future where the assembly facility at Boca Chica is capable of manufacturing a Starship every 72 hours! SpaceX’s ultimate mission, is to develop a spacecraft that will be capable of transporting one hundred passengers to the moon and Mars. Starship already has its first crewed flight booked. Yusaku Maezawa, a fashion entrepreneur, booked a voyage around the moon aboard Starship scheduled for 2023. The company is truly working on a tight schedule to complete the spacecraft’s development. “If the schedule is long, it's wrong; if it's tight, it's right,” is one of Musk’s work mantras.