According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the aerospace company could try to launch its latest Starship rocket prototype more than nine miles into the sky as early as Wednesday.
Starship SN8 (Serial Number 8), a 165-foot tall stainless steel vehicle, is part of a series of prototypes built in the pursuit of developing an interplanetary transportation system designed to take humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars. It looks more like a rocket ship than previous versions that did not have a nose cone attached to the top or wing-like canards on the side.
Starship SN8 Static Fire!
Overview Article for this test:https://t.co/E3v5cOyEAt
Mary (@BocaChicaGal) livestreaming with the NSF Crew.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 24, 2020
Last week, Musk indicated a flight attempt was forthcoming after SN8 completed a successful static fire test of its three Raptor engines. He said the target altitude would be around 50,000 feet, which as CNBC notes, is “well above the 500 foot flights of the prototype’s predecessors SN5 and SN6.”
Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week. Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2020
“Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip,” Musk wrote in a tweet posted last Tuesday.
Musk told a reporter there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” the prototype lands in one piece, adding, “But that’s why we have SN 9 & SN10.”
Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 25, 2020
CNBC provides some more details:
Those later prototypes are already in progress at SpaceX’s growing facility in Boca Chica, Texas. While SpaceX’s fleet of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are partially reusable, Musk’s goal is to make Starship fully reusable – envisioning a rocket that is more akin to a commercial airplane, with short turnaround times between flights where the only major cost is fuel.
Musk said that SN9 and SN10 feature “many small improvements,” with “major upgrades” planned once SpaceX begins work on prototype SN15.
After SpaceX in May launched a pair of NASA astronauts in its first crewed mission, Musk pivoted the company’s attention, declaring that the top SpaceX priority is now development of Starship. Musk said in an email obtained by CNBC that Starship’s program must accelerate “dramatically and immediately.”
SN3 collapsed during pressure testing in April, then SN4 exploded during a static fire test the following month. SpaceX engineers learned from each setback, modifying designs and changing some materials.
Musk said SN8 would undergo another static fire test on Monday.
According to CNBC, Musk has acknowledged there are still “hundreds of missions” to launch before Starship could potentially transport people.
SpaceX says Starship “will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes,” the equivalent of 220,462 pounds.
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