SpaceX installs aerodynamic flaps to the next Starship that will perform a test flight

SpaceX installs aerodynamic flaps to the next Starship that will perform a test flight

Featured Image Source: Elon Musk 

SpaceX is developing a two-stage, stainless-steel Starship spacecraft that will be capable of transporting one hundred passengers on long-duration voyages to Mars. Starship is under development at Boca Chica, a small beach village in South Texas located along the border of Mexico. The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk calls Boca Chica beach the “Gateway to Mars.” He envisions transforming the piece of sandy land into a ‘21st Century Spaceport’ and ‘SpaceX Resort’ where employees will enjoy living while they work towards creating a spacefaring future for humanity.

SpaceX teams are currently working on the Starship SN8 prototype, which will conduct the first high-altitude test flight at Boca Chica. Today, September 26, Musk shared teams installed aerodynamic flaps on the SN8 vehicle. – “Starship SN8 with rear body flaps,” he captioned a photo of the shiny stainless-steel vehicle, pictured below. “Nosecone & front flaps next week. SN9 next month,” he added. As engineers prepare SN8 to conduct a test flight, the next prototype in line - SN9 - is simultaneously under assembly at the rocket factory.



Starship SN8 will liftoff around 50,000 feet (ft), equivalent to 15 kilometers (km) above the ground. The test vehicle was transported this morning to the launchpad that is less than 5 miles away from the assembly facility. Musk aims to make flying stainless-steel spacecraft routine in South Texas and appreciates the support SpaceX receives from the local community. – “One way or another, excitement guaranteed! Support of greater Boca, Padre, Brownsville community is very much appreciated,” he shared his gratitude via Twitter last month.



Starship SN8 will be the first stainless-steel prototype that looks like the spacecraft's final design -featuring a top nose cone section and aerodynamic flaps. A pair of Starship prototypes conducted low-altitude test flights this year. These just looked like cylinder structures with a square-shape mass simulator atop; Each soared into the sky 150 meters and landed powered by a single methane-fueled Raptor engine. Starship SN8 is expected to be the first test vehicle to feature three powerful Raptors. The final version of Starship will feature six, three designed for atmospheric flight and three vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. SN8’s test flight will showcase how three Raptors perform together, and how the aerodynamic flaps work in-flight. SpaceX will attempt to conduct a ‘belly flop’ flight maneuver that will offer engineers insight towards the development of the spacecraft. Musk shared “the flaps are now directly driven by electric motors with a gearbox! No more hydraulics,” he wrote via Twitter.



Musk was asked today how high future Starship prototypes will fly, to which he responded – “We just need enough height to test body flaps & drawing propellant from headers vs main tanks. Will do several flights to confirm working well, then add heat shield & go high Mach.”



Now that Starship SN8 is awaiting a nose cone installation at the launch pad, it could be ready to take flight in just a couple of weeks, after it passes pre-flight preparations. According to a recent Federal Communications Commission filing by SpaceX, the company seeks to conduct a test flight sometime after October 11. 

About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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