NASA Will Monitor SpaceX’s Starship ‘Starbrick’ Heatshield During Orbital Flight Test In 2022

NASA Will Monitor SpaceX’s Starship ‘Starbrick’ Heatshield During Orbital Flight Test In 2022

Featured Image Source: Created by @ErcXspace via Twitter

NASA’s Langley Research Center located in Hampton, Virginia, will collaborate with SpaceX to monitor the upcoming orbital Starship flight test. Specifically, NASA’s Scientifically Calibrated In Flight Imagery (SCIFLI) team plans to conduct a SCIFLI Starship Reentry Observation (SSRO). During the test, the agency will monitor the stainless-steel spacecraft's heatshield as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere with an aircraft that will carry a new instrument called, SCIFLI Airborne Multispectral Imager (SAMI).

When Starship lands it is designed to perform a “belly flop” maneuver to slow down its descent, Starship is equipped with hexagonal ceramic heatshield tiles on its back side to protect it from the blazing temperatures it will experience upon atmospheric reentry. At hypersonic speeds the vehicle will experience extreme heat over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it glides down from space. Unlike traditional Thermal Protection Systems currently in operation, Starbrick is “intended to provide a dramatic leap forward by demonstrating operational reuse, requiring minimal to no maintenance between flights.” 

The black-color heat shield is called ‘Starbrick’ thermal tiles, according to a new NASA Langley document. The document reveals that they target to conduct Starship’s orbital flight test no earlier than (NET) March 2022 [pending confirmation from SpaceX]. SpaceX plans to fly a Starship prototype from Starbase at Boca Chica Beach, Texas, and land it in the ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

Starship SN20 prototype at Starbase Launch Site. Source:

The “SCIFLI team seeks to demonstrate enhanced remote observation instrumentation technology for obtaining global surface temperature on a commercial spacecraft [Starship] returning from low Earth orbit,” agency representatives wrote in the project’s description. “The product provides non-invasive measurements on an integrated vehicle in an actual hypersonic flight environment that will increase overall mission capability via more accurate modeling/design tools and inform on vehicle in-situ thermocouple performance,” they wrote. “A high-resolution observation during reentry using calibrated infrared cameras will be used to monitor surface temperature of the entire lower surface of the Starship spacecraft during hypersonic reentry. To perform the thermal observation, the NASA is developing an advanced multispectral imaging system that will be flown on a NASA high-altitude WB-57F research aircraft. The resulting calibrated measurements will inform modeling efforts and anchor surface temperatures inferred from embedded thermocouples.”

The SCIFLI imaging system is sponsored by NASA's Artemis program and its “fabrication nearing completion. […] Observation planning process initiated. Material samples to be tested to determine surface emissivity. Targeting Starship reentry observation opportunity near March 2022,” NASA representatives wrote in the document, pictured below.

NASA Langley says that the collaboration with SpaceX will be beneficial. “A validated design using flight data from NASA's SAMI imaging system would have a dramatic impact on the commercial space economy by offering a lower marginal launch cost per kg [kilogram] to low Earth orbit. SpaceX's goal is to further reduce the cost of access to space with Starship by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude relative to its Falcon 9 launch vehicle,” they stated. “Rapid reusability of the entire Starship launch system—including its heatshield technology—is critical for achieving this reduction. Thus, this partnership with NASA will allow SpaceX to enable the first-ever fully reusable orbital launch and entry vehicle.”

NASA supports Starship development, the agency awarded a contract to SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

Document Source: NASA & SpaceX via

Featured Image Source: Created by @ErcXspace via Twitter

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.

Follow me on X

Reading next

Tesla Wins Court Case Against Chinese Owner Who Falsely Claimed Sudden Vehicle Acceleration
SpaceX Will Launch Varda Space Industries' First Module To Manufacture Products In Space

Tesla Accessories