Featured Image Source: SpaceX
On August 4, SpaceX successfully conducted a test flight of a Starship prototype. The shiny stainless-steel cylinder propelled into an approximate altitude of 150-meters above Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, powered by a single Raptor engine. The vehicle referred to as Starship SN5, soared across Texas' sunny sky towards a landing pad, and it deployed a set of landing legs to perform a flawless landing. Tuesday’s successful test flight only lasted around forty seconds, but it marked a milestone towards the development of SpaceX’s most ambitious project yet. The Starship launch vehicle will one day transport one hundred passengers to the moon and Mars. The aerospace company hopes to build a fleet of Starships to colonize the Red Planet.
This launch was the first test flight of the year at Boca Chica. The launch success came after a series of testing failures of previous prototypes that imploded this year during pre-flight preparations. SpaceX released a video of the launch, impressively showcasing SpaceX’s engineering talent, shown below.
After the successful test, SpaceX founder Elon Musk outlined the next phase of SpaceX's Starship development process. – “We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps,” he shared via Twitter. A ‘hop’ is a low-altitude test flight that lasts less than a minute. Teams currently have multiple Starships under assembly at Boca Chica's SpaceX factory that is less than 4 miles down the road leading to the launch pad.
We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 5, 2020
Musk also shared that future test vehicle versions [V1.1 and V2.0] will feature improved landing legs. – “V1.1 legs will be ~60% longer. V2.0 legs will be much wider and taller — like Falcon, but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces & auto-leveling,” he said. He likened the future Starship landing legs to the company’s Falcon 9 rockets landing legs. The Falcon 9 is the first orbital-class rocket in the world capable of launching payload into orbit and return to land vertically in order to be reused. Engineers aim to make Starship fully reusable using a similar rocket recovery system.
V1.1 legs will be ~60% longer. V2.0 legs will be much wider & taller — like Falcon, but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces & auto-leveling.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 5, 2020
The next Starship prototype in line will undergo the same test process SN5 went through, and a low-altitude test flight. The higher-altitude test flight is expected to take the vehicle into a height of around 20-kilometers before taking a Starship vehicle to orbit at around 100-kilometers.
The company is working on a tight schedule. Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese entrepreneur, is funding a large portion of Starship’s development; he is SpaceX’s first private customer who booked a flight aboard Starship to go on a voyage around the moon. His flight is scheduled in a couple of years, by 2023. SpaceX is also developing a Starship Lunar Lander for NASA that could one-day transport cargo and astronauts under the agency’s Artemis program which aims to launch the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface in 2024.