Featured Image Source: @SpacePadreIsle via Twitter
SpaceX is in the process of developing the world's most powerful rocket that will be capable of taking humans to Mars and beyond. The rocket company aims to manufacture a production line of Starships. This year, manufacturing teams built three 301-stainless-steel Starship prototypes, referred to as: SN1, SN2, and SN3. The first prototype SN1, was assembled with the intention to take it on a short flight, but during a cryogenic pressurization test the vehicle imploded. Engineers learned from the destructive test, that there was an issue at the bottom of the craft where the engines go. The founder and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, Elon Musk, said the SN1 vehicle had an issue on a "thrust puck" at the bottom of the tank that took all the thrust load. The "thrust puck" is the structure where Starship's Raptor engines are mounted. So, the tank design and welding needed to be improved. Teams rapidly manufactured SN2, as a pathfinder to fix the issue. SN2 was a dome tank used to conduct another series of pressurization tests to ensure structural quality and it did pass the cryogenic pressure test. Teams have worked daily, day and night shifts at the factory in Boca Chica to finish building the third prototype of Starship, SN3, that is expected to conduct a test flight soon.
Early today, March 29, the SN3 test vehicle was transported to the launch pad, a couple of miles down the road from the assembly site where it will undergo a series of tests, including cryogenic pressurization - to measure structure and weld strength. During pressurization test, the vehicle is filled with liquid nitrogen, the craft must withstand a pressure of at least 6 bar, the strength required for an orbital flight. A bar of ~8.5 would be the factor needed for a crewed flight.
If the pressure test goes well, Raptor engine integration is expected to take place at the launch pad in the week ahead. According to Cameron County, Texas beach closure announcements, it appears SpaceX plans to conduct a pressure test soon. The road closures are all scheduled for the first week of April, starting on - Wednesday, April 1 through April 8 from 9 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. CST. Road closures are an indication that vital work by SpaceX crews will take place. Besides a pressure test, there could be a potential Raptor engine static-fire test ahead of a 150 meter 'hop' debut test flight. It would be the first time SpaceX performs a flight with a fully-assembled Starship! Each new prototype and test takes the company closer towards developing a space-ready craft.