November 20, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, unveiled the new Starship design at Boca Chica Beach, Texas on September 28th during his annual update event. The vehicle is a 9 meter wide, 50 meters tall stainless steel spaceship. It is the first fully assembled prototype of Starship referred to as, Mark 1 or Mk1. The prototype entered its test phase this month.
On November 18, Starship Mk1 came to life. SpaceX teams spent a couple of hours conducting pressurization tests. After the pressure tests, the vehicle started venting. Mk1's venting, was cryogenic gas to pressurize and check for any leaks in the vehicle. SpaceX engineers could then determine whether the prototype has any leaks by utilizing sensors to know what is the gas volume that is being loaded into the craft. The test was captured and shared via Twitter:
A STARSHIP IS BORN!!! #SpaceX #Starship MK1 breathed her first breath at 5:57pm on 11/18/2019!! The first round of pressure testing today is occurring, watch live on Starship Cam https://t.co/FHhr2n2N3R pic.twitter.com/F8YODjYSfX— SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle) November 19, 2019
During the September unveiling, Musk said that the newly assembled Mk1 prototype will perform test flights to an altitude of 20 kilometers (12 miles) before the year ends.
The bottom half of Starship Mk1 underwent another series of tests, on November 20, where it was partially destroyed during an explosive test failure. As seen in the video below:
This explosion isn't an unexpected occurrence, since the craft is in an early-stage of development. By test trials and error, is how rocket companies learn to improve their spacecraft. Starship Mk1 blew its top bulkhead out during pressurization, cryogenic testing. During this test, they see if the vehicle has any leaks and if the structure can endure extreme pressure, as well as cold temperatures like those in space -by intentionally pressurizing the vehicle to 'the max'. SpaceX said in a statement:
"The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected."
This test failure does affect the scheduled 20 kilometer flight that was supposed to happen in Texas this year. Luckily, SpaceX does have another Starship prototype, Mk2, under assembly in Florida. It's likely that craft will preform the 20 kilometer test flight as soon as its completed.
Elon Musk said SpaceX Boca Chica will move on to build Starship Mk3, which is the third version of the craft instead of fixing Mk1, stating that Mk1’s value was primarily "as a manufacturing pathfinder," and that "flight design is quite different."
Absolutely, but to move to Mk3 design. This had some value as a manufacturing pathfinder, but flight design is quite different.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2019
SpaceX envisions enabling humanity to become a space-faring civilization by developing Starship. During the vehicle's unveiling Musk said:
"There are many troubles in the world...these are important & we need to solve them but we also need things that make us excited to be alive. Becoming a spacefaring civilization, being out there among the stars- this is one of the things that I know makes me be glad to be alive."
With that heart-felt dream SpaceX does not give up easily, they have motivation to successfully develop Starship.
Good luck to SpaceX!
* Featured Article Image Source: Twitter @LabPadre.