Featured Image Source: @BocaChicaGal via Twitter.
The ‘Gateway to Mars’ is starting to take shape at Boca Chica beach in Brownsville, Texas, where SpaceX is building its first spaceport. The founder of the aerospace company, Chief Engineer Elon Musk, plans to create a great place for employees to work and live in South Texas. He envisions transforming the small sandy village into a ‘tropical resort’ and Starship spaceport that will one day launch missions to the moon and Mars. Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle; It will be the world’s most powerful rocket-spacecraft duo capable of transporting one hundred passengers to space destinations. Musk envisions a fleet of at least 1,000 Starships embarking on voyages to colonize the Red Planet over the course of 20 years.
SpaceX is working around-the-clock to enable humans to become a multi-planet species. Giant Vehicle Assembly Buildings and stainless-steel Starship prototypes are simultaneously under construction at the Boca Chica facility where SpaceX teams aim to make flying prototypes routine. So far, the company has conducted a pair of low-altitude test flights this year. A prototype referred to as Starship SN5 took flight on August 3rd, it soared 150-meters above Boca Chica beach, then landed powered by a single Raptor engine. Almost one month later, on September 4th, engineers launched the next twin prototype in line, Starship SN6, which conducted a similar flight. – “Starship SN6 flew a similar hop to SN5, but it was a much smoother and faster operation,” Musk said after the successful test flight. Each test offers engineers insight towards the development of a space-ready spacecraft. Today, SN5 and SN6 stand next to one another at the SpaceX production site's entrance, pictured below.
Now, SpaceX teams are preparing to conduct a ‘burst test’ of a Starship tank referred to as SN7.1. The tank was transported this morning to the launchpad at Boca Chica where it will undergo a cryogenic pressurization test which will push the SN7.1 tank to its limit, to assess how much pressure the welded stainless-steel structure can withstand. The tank may also have portions made out of different alloy mix of stainless-steel, including 304L stainless-steel, that will offer engineers insight into what material is best for future use. Previous prototypes were made out of 301 stainless steel. The Starship SN7.1 tank is expected to undergo testing in the weeks ahead. There have been thunderstorms in South Texas that could delay the testing schedule.
SpaceX is already building a larger scale prototype, Starship SN8; It will be the first test vehicle that will resemble the spacecraft’s original design structure. During its future test flight, it will be equipped with a nose cone and aerodynamic fins to conduct a higher-altitude ‘dive’ launch of around 20 kilometers. It is unknown if this vehicle will be ready to take flight after the SN7.1 tank undergoes testing. Musk previously said that he would like to attempt to launch Starship SN5 again, which would help engineers develop a reusable spacecraft. Maybe SN5 and/or SN6 will take flight again before SN8 attempts a higher-altitude test launch. Meanwhile, the South Texas facility is producing more Starship prototypes SN9 is also under construction. “We’re making good progress. The thing that we’re really making progress on with Starship is the production system,” Musk said during the Humans To Mars teleconference last week. “The thing that really impedes progress on Starship is the production system ... A year ago, there was almost nothing there and now we’ve got quite a lot of production capability. So, we’re rapidly making more and more ships.” The company targets to conduct the first orbital test flight in 2021. - “I hope we do a lot of flights. The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory,” he added, “Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket.”
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.