Note: Photo Is Edited. Image Created by @RGVaerialphotos via Twitter.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk dreams of a future where humans are capable of traveling to the Moon and Mars. He founded the aerospace company to develop technology and spacecraft that will make a space faring civilization a reality. SpaceX is developing its next-generation launch vehicle, known as Starship, at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility located at Boca Chica Beach. The facility has turned into a rocket factory where engineering teams are rapidly manufacturing stainless-steel Starship prototypes that are undergoing testing one after the other.
Starship landing flip maneuver pic.twitter.com/QuD9HwZ9CX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 10, 2020
Early December SpaceX test launched the Starship SN8 prototype into an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet above Boca Chica, the vehicle was powered by a trio of methane-fueled Raptor engines. During the flight test, SN8 shutdown its engines and performed an amazing ‘belly flip’ maneuver guided by its aerodynamic flaps. As it glided down the sky, Starship SN8 attempted a controlled landing but upon descent the vehicle exploded. However, SpaceX engineers gathered enough data towards the spacecraft’s development. After the flight test, Musk said SN8 exploded upon landing due to the fuel header tank pressure being low during landing burn which caused touchdown velocity to be high, ending in an explosion. SpaceX will change the way the vehicle’s tank is pressurized to attempt to ace the landing next time. Musk says the next test vehicle, Starship SN9, "will press CH4 (methane) header tank with helium. Long-term solution is under debate. Not clear what is lightest/simplest," he stated. By trial and error is how engineers figure out what works best.
SN9 will press CH4 header tank with helium. Long-term solution is under debate. Not clear what is lightest/simplest.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2020
Starship SN9 is currently at the launch pad undergoing preflight preparations. The stainless-steel vehicle already underwent a cryogenic pressurization test to assess the vehicle’s strength and is expected to undergo a Raptor engine static-firing sometime next week. According to Cameron County Boca Chica Beach road closure announcements, SpaceX plans to perform preflight testing from January 4 to January 6 during timeframes scheduled at 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Time.
Yes— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 3, 2021
This evening, Musk said we could soon see two Starship vehicles at the launch pad simultaneously! A Boca Chica resident edited a photograph of twin Starships at the launch site and asked - "With SN10 nearly complete and repairs being done at the landing pad, do you think this is something we will get to see in the next few weeks?" to which Musk responded –“Yes.” The test vehicle that will follow Starship SN9 is SN10, which is under assembly at the rocket factory situated less than three miles down the road from the launch pad. A Boca Chica Village resident captured a photo of Starship SN10’s assembly. Teams stacked the vehicle’s top nose cone section inside a high bay on Saturday, pictured below. Maybe in January SpaceX could transport SN10 to the launch pad where SN9 awaits a flight test.
Multiple vehicles are under construction; Starship SN11 and SN12 are in the initial phase of assembly (shown below). Musk expects to test at least 20 Starship prototypes before creating the final version of the spacecraft. The year 2021 is guaranteed to be exciting in terms of Starship's development as SpaceX works to make flying stainless-steel vehicles routine in South Texas.
Featured Image Source: @RGVaerialphotos via Twitter.
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.