SpaceX is preparing the Starship SN9 prototype to perform a high-altitude flight test at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility in Boca Chica Beach, where the spacecraft is under development. Starship will be a gigantic two-stage launch vehicle capable of long-duration voyages carrying one hundred passengers and tons of cargo to the Moon and Mars. Stainless-steel Starship prototypes are undergoing testing at Boca Chica, each test offers engineers insight towards the spacecraft’s overall development. For the past couple of weeks, Starship SN9 has been through a series of preflight tests conducted to assess if the vehicle is ready to take flight. SN9 underwent cryogenic proof tests late-December, during which the stainless-steel vehicle was filled with subchilled liquid nitrogen that caused SN9 to experience the kind of pressure it would experience in-flight.
This week, Starship SN9’s Raptor engine trio underwent a set of static-fire tests in which the vehicle was fueled with cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen to test its engines while grounded to the launch pad. On Wednesday, the founder of SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk shared they were ‘practicing Starship engine starts.’ – “Ship is held down by massive pins while engines are fired. Two starts completed, about to try a third,” he stated via Twitter January 13. Later that evening, SpaceX completed the third Starship SN9 engine ignition test –“All three static fires completed & no RUDs!” he announced. ‘RUD’ it is an acronym for ‘Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly’ (a fancy way to replace the word ‘destruction’). It is the first time SpaceX performs three static-fire tests back-to-back on the same day.
STATIC FIRE for Starship SN9 (again!) - the first time Starship has conducted same day back-to-back triple Raptor Static Fire tests.— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 13, 2021
Mary (@BocaChicaGal) capturing more milestones.
By Thursday, January 15, SpaceX engineers gathered enough data from the Starship SN9 ignition tests and Musk shared that, “Two of the engines need slight repairs, so will be switched out,” he said. A previous Starship prototype that had an engine swap underwent the engine changing process for twenty-six days, Musk said that SpaceX is “making major improvements to ease of engine swap. Needs to be a few hours at most,” he stated.
Two of the engines need slight repairs, so will be switched out— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 15, 2021
We’re making major improvements to ease of engine swap. Needs to be a few hours at most.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 15, 2021
Today, Friday, January 15, SpaceX teams at Boca Chica started to remove Starship SN9’s Raptor engines to initiate the swapping process. A local spaceflight photographer captured a stunning close-up photograph of a Starship engine identified as Raptor number 44, pictured below. He also shared a video clip of the Raptor engine being transported from the launch pad to the rocket factory less than three miles down the road.
Raptor Serial Number 44🔥🚀 pic.twitter.com/FnplhkYT6c— Austin Barnard🚀 (@austinbarnard45) January 15, 2021
Raptor SN44 rolling out of the launch site pic.twitter.com/UekVxKW1ZS— Austin Barnard🚀 (@austinbarnard45) January 15, 2021
Now, teams are expected to work on installing the new engines in the days ahead. It is unclear how long the process will take. Upon installation, the newly installed Raptors will have to undergo another series of static-fire tests and preflight preparations. SpaceX aims to launch the Starship SN9 vehicle 12.5-kilometers above Boca Chica Beach, attempt another ‘belly flip’ maneuver and try to ace the landing this time around. You can watch SpaceX operations leading to launch day in the video below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube.
WATCH IT LIVE!
About the Author
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.