Featured Image Source: @NASASpaceflight via Twitter / YouTube.
SpaceX engineers are in the process of developing Starship, an enormous stainless-steel spacecraft that will one day launch one hundred passengers to the moon and Mars. Starship prototypes are under construction at the company’s South Texas facility located at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, TX. The company will build a spaceport along Boca Chica’s coast. The first crewed Starship voyage is scheduled for the year 2023, booked by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa who plans to take a circumlunar trip. SpaceX is working on a tight schedule to develop a space-ready Starship.
Tuesday night, SpaceX teams at Boca Chica conducted a cryogenic pressure test of the Starship SN5 prototype. The stainless-steel SN5 vehicle was subjected to conditions it would experience during spaceflight. The structure was filled with sub-cooled liquid nitrogen that causes the vehicle to experience max pressure, while a thrust simulator system imitates the force of a Raptor engine by pressing at the bottom of the vehicle. This test is to determine if the vehicle can withstand highly pressurized propellant and high-stress of flight. Starship must withstand a pressure of 6 bar to conduct an orbital flight, a pressure strength of 8.5 bar is needed to take astronauts to space. NASASpaceflight reporters captured footage of last night’s cryogenic pressure test, shown below.
If the Starship SN5 vehicle passes the next series of tests, it will be the first large-scale vehicle to take flight. The first test flight is expected to be 150-meters in altitude, followed by a 20-kilometer flight above Boca Chica Beach. SpaceX teams will now prepare SN5 for the Raptor engine installation. Raptor engines are fueled by sub-chilled methane and liquid oxygen. This unique engine is designed and manufactured by SpaceX; It was developed with Mars in mind. Future Mars explorers will have the ability to create a propellant plant on the Red Planet to refuel Starship’s return to Earth. Methane and liquid oxygen can be created on Mars by taking carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere and digging water-ice to synthesize fuel through the Sabatier process and electrolysis.
The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk, hopes to launch the first astronauts to Mars by the year 2024. Before that, SpaceX will send Starships carrying cargo in 2022. The company runs 24-hour operations in South Texas to meet the ambitious deadlines. “The future of humanity is going to bifurcate in two directions: Either it’s going to become multi-planetary, or it’s going to remain confined to one planet and eventually there’s going to be an extinction event,” he says.
In an email obtained by CNBC news last month, Musk told SpaceX employees –"Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship," he wrote. The NASA astronauts are expected to return aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on August 2ndaccording to NASA officials. It will be the first-time teams recover Dragon with humans aboard. Until then, SpaceX shifted all its focus to its next-generation spacecraft, Starship. “We need to accelerate Starship progress,” Musk told his teams and asked them to “consider spending significant time” in Boca Chica to help the company accelerate Starship development, “For those considering moving, we will always offer a dedicated SpaceX aircraft to shuttle people,” he wrote.