SpaceX engineers proof-test the next Starship vehicle that will take flight

by Evelyn Arevalo August 17, 2020

SpaceX engineers proof-test the next Starship vehicle that will take flight

Featured Image Source: LabPadre via Twitter/YouTube. 

SpaceX’s Starship development is starting to pick up pace in South Texas. The company performed the first test flight of the year at Boca Chica beach earlier this month. Engineers successfully launched the Starship SN5 prototype 150-meters off the ground, and landed it vertically, powered by a single Raptor engine. Now, teams are getting ready to conduct a similar test flight with the next Starship prototype in line at the assembly factory.

Starship SN6 initiated a series of pre-flight tests that it must pass in order to conduct a low-altitude launch. Today, August 17, SpaceX teams conducted a cryogenic proof-test of SN6 at the launch pad. The test is meant to assess the weld quality and how much pressure the stainless-steel vehicle can withstand. A resident captured video of today’s activity at the facility, shown below. It appears that SpaceX conducted an ambient pressure test first, then subjected the structure to extremely cold temperatures during a cryogenic pressure test. During the test, Starship SN6 was loaded with inert gas, liquid nitrogen, instead of the methane and liquid oxygen propellant. The shiny cylinder began forming frost all around and did not collapse, like previous prototypes during pressure testing.



The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk previously stated that Starship must withstand a pressure between ~6 and ~8.5 bar strength; A ~6 bar is needed for orbital flight and ~8.5 bar is needed for crewed flights. Officials have not confirmed if the structure passed today’s test or if it will be subjected to another set of proof-tests. If the test was a success, teams will move on to installing a Raptor engine to perform a static-fire test. We could see another Starship soar 150-meters off the ground this month if it all goes smoothly. SpaceX aims to make flying and landing stainless-steel test vehicles routine at Boca Chica.

The next prototypes in line will fly at higher altitudes. Starship SN8 is expected to fly 20-kilometers powered by three Raptor engines. Musk said SN8 will be fully-assembled, feature a nose cone, and aerodynamic fins to attempt a ‘belly dive’ flight, as shown in the render below.



Teams are manufacturing multiple Starships that will all undergo the same set of tests; each will take engineers closer towards developing a space-ready vehicle.  They are working on a very tight schedule. The first Starship passenger who is funding Starship's development, Yusaku Maezawa, booked a journey around the moon scheduled for 2023 - that is just a couple of years away!

As the spacecraft's development speeds up, the rocket facility is also growing rapidly in South Texas; giant high bays are under construction. These will be useful to assemble the gigantic spacecraft during unfavorable weather. According to a recent job listing, SpaceX aims to make Boca Chica ‘an epic place to live and work’, it will be transformed into a “21st Century Spaceport”. The company is seeking to hire a “Resort Development Manager” to develop the company’s first resort and spaceport. – “SpaceX is committed to developing revolutionary space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Boca Chica Village is our latest launch site dedicated to Starship, our next-generation launch vehicle,” the company wrote in the job listing, “SpaceX is committed to developing this town into a 21st-century Spaceport. We are looking for a talented Resort Development Manager to oversee the development of SpaceX's first resort from inception to completion.”



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