Featured Image Source: @NASASpaceflight via Twitter
SpaceX is developing its next-generation spacecraft at the South Texas facility located in Brownsville’s Boca Chica beach. The aerospace company is manufacturing many stainless-steel Starships. Each Starship prototype will feature minor changes to test out and improve the craft. Last night, SpaceX’s fourth Starship test vehicle ‘SN4’ roared to life during a critical static-fire test. The Raptor was ignited after a successful cryogenic pressure test eight days prior, which tested the vehicle’s structural strength. Previous Starship prototypes collapsed during pressure tests. During cryogenic pressurization, the vehicle is loaded with sub-chilled liquid nitrogen. It is the first time a full-scale Starship test-vehicle ignited its engine this year.
Starship SN4 STATIC FIRE!— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 6, 2020
First time a Raptor has fired up on a SpaceX Starship. They'll be reviewing, so let's hope the data shows it was a good test!
During Tuesday’s static-fire test, SN4’s propellant tanks were filled with cryogenic methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX). The single Raptor engine was ignited at about 8:57 p.m. CDT. for about four seconds as the vehicle was held-down to the launch pad. The engine can produce 200 tons of thrust at full throttle. Boca Chica residents shared footage of the test, shown above. The founder and Chief Engineer of SpaceX, Elon Musk, announced:
“Starship SN4 passed static fire.”
The successful static-firing allows engineers to move to the next phase of testing -LAUNCH!
SpaceX will review the test’s data to determine if Starship SN4 is ready to take flight. Its debut flight will be a low-altitude test flight of about 150-meters above Boca Chica beach. Engineers have only performed one test flight, in 2019, with a scaled-down prototype. SN4 will the first larger-scale prototype engineers will launch. If the test flight is successful in the weeks ahead, the next prototypes SN5 or SN6 will conduct a higher-altitude test flight of 20-kilometers with the power of 3 Raptor engines.
The final version of Starship will feature a total of 6 Raptor engines on operational missions. The ship will require a massive Super Heavy rocket booster to lift it off of Earth’s atmosphere. Musk says the rocket will be powered by 31 Raptors, and be capable of conducting vertical landings on Earth shortly after liftoff, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX has been selected to develop a lunar optimized Starship to transport crew between lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon as part of @NASA’s Artemis program! https://t.co/FRmwWisKfH pic.twitter.com/z1bkUrQMK8— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 30, 2020
NASA recently awarded SpaceX a $135 million contract to develop a Starship Lunar Lander. The company released an image of the lunar version of Starship that will take cargo and astronauts to the moon’s surface one day, under the agency’s Artemis program. Ultimately, Starship is being designed with Mars on mind. Musk envisions a fleet of 1,000 Starships embarking on a journey to the Red Planet over the course of 20 years, with hundreds of passengers and megatons of cargo aboard. The first Starship could launch towards Martian land in a couple of years with cargo. "It appears that consciousness is a very rare and precious thing," Musk said last year, during the Starship design unveiling event in South Texas -"We should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness. Only now, after 4.5 billion years has that window been open. That’s a long time to wait and it might not stay open for long. I’m pretty optimistic by nature, but there’s some chance that window will not be open for long, and I think we should become a multi-planet civilization while that window is open."