SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, runs around-the-clock operations at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility in Boca Chica Beach where they are developing the Starship spacecraft. Starship will be a gigantic two-stage launch vehicle consisting of the spacecraft - Starship - and a rocket booster called Super Heavy. The launch vehicle will be reusable; capable of launching over 100 tons of cargo and 100 passengers to space destinations. Musk envisions a fleet of Starships embarking on a voyage to colonize Mars. He targets the first crewed mission to the Red Planet by the year 2026. However, we could see the first crewed mission aboard Starship as soon as three years from now, SpaceX's first private customer booked a voyage around the moon by 2023.
Stainless-steel prototypes of the spacecraft are undergoing testing at Boca Chica Village. The company test launched three Starship prototypes this year. Two prototypes known as SN5 and SN6, performed a low-altitude ‘hop’ test of 150-meters powered by a single Raptor engine. Then SpaceX performed its first high-altitude test flight on December 9. A prototype known as Starship SN8, lifted off approximately 15 kilometers above Boca Chica beach powered by a trio of Raptor engines. During the 7-minute test flight, Starship SN8 performed a ‘belly flop’ maneuver that tested the spacecraft’s aerodynamic flaps design for the first time. The amazing test flight demonstrated SpaceX’s engineering talent. It was the first time the company attempted such maneuver. Starship SN8’s finale was a giant explosion upon landing. Even though the vehicle exploded, the test offered engineers significant data towards the development of the spacecraft.
Starship landing flip maneuver pic.twitter.com/QuD9HwZ9CX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 10, 2020
The company aims to make launching stainless-steel vehicles routine. SpaceX is already preparing to conduct the next high-altitude Starship test flight in South Texas with the next prototype in line –Starship SN9. The vehicle is expected to be rolled out to the launch pad in the days ahead. Musk is seen in the photo above checking out the SN9 test vehicle. Starship SN9 was previously scheduled to head to the launch pad on Monday, December 14, but Starship SN9 tipped inside the vehicle assembly building, which caused damage on one of the vehicle’s aerodynamic fins. It is unclear what caused the stainless-steel vehicle to tip to its side, live video footage shows it tipped early morning on December 11. Overnight, teams proceeded to stand SN9 upright, video below.
SpaceX crews worked through the night to safely right the snoozing SN9 prototype, as captured by this @NASASpaceflight robotic camera deployed by @BocaChicaGal.— Kerbal Space Academy (@KSpaceAcademy) December 13, 2020
Follow on YouTube to see the full res edit in our daily update video later tonight:
SN9 appears to have taken some damage from the tilt 😅 but she is back up right and still attached to Tankzilla 🏗 pic.twitter.com/XhrFHhbEn3— Adrian Aguilar (@SpxAdrian) December 13, 2020
Teams are expected to replace Starship SN9’s damaged fin before preparing the vehicle for a high-altitude test flight. According to Cameron County Boca Chica Beach road closure announcements, SpaceX is scheduled to perform major work on Thursday, December 17 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Central Time (CST), the company also scheduled a back-up date on Friday, December 18 at the same time. The road closures indicate SpaceX plans to work on Starship SN9 and could move the 50-meter-tall vehicle out of the high bay with a large crane in order to fix it (or possibly move it to the launchpad down the road). Meanwhile, SpaceX teams are also building Starship SN10. You can watch SpaceX South Texas facility operations Live in the video below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube.
WATCH IT LIVE!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.