Last night, SpaceX pulled off the debut test flight of the Starship SN6 prototype in a 150 meters hop. The spectacular hop pushed SpaceX one step closer to its Starship mission.
Why This Matters?
The Starship mission will use the Starship spacecraft along with the next generation Super Heavy launch vehicle, collectively known as Starship, to realize a completely reusable space launch system to carry people and payloads to the Earth’s orbit, Moon, and the dream destination, Mars. Musk estimates that this mission will push crewed trips by leaps and bounds and will also cut down the cost of such trips considerably. The mission statement notes:
The SN6 prototype is the latest in the series of the Starship designs, and it uses testbeds to house the technology required to attain a fully reusable launch system for space missions.
Talking about Mars, we know that it has been a perpetual dream of millions of people, particularly Elon Musk. The entrepreneur and space enthusiast stated that perhaps in the next fifty years, if all goes well with the Starship mission, Mars will not still be a dream after all.
The History of Starship
Around 2018, SpaceX started building its first Starship prototype, as a brand new stainless steel design, known as Starhopper. The prototype was completed in the spring of 2019. Later, some design changes were incorporated in the prototype before Starhopper took the test flight in July 2019. A month later, in a subsequent test, Starhopper managed to reach an altitude of 150 meters but landed somewhat roughly. Starhopper was then scraped out, and SpaceX went ahead with its next two full-scale designs – Mk1 and Mk2. During the test flight of Mk1, the vehicle could not handle the pressure and temperature conditions and ended up exploding. After a series of design changes and failures, SpaceX started building the SN1 prototype. However, this model failed the cryogenic test due to the failure of the thrust puck.
SN1 was followed by the construction of more evolved prototypes, with the redesign of the thrust puck, to do away with failures in pressure tests, static fire tests, among others.
In the first week of August, SpaceX completed the first successful test flight of the Starship SN5 prototype. Right after the magnificent hop, Musk tweeted: “Mars is looking real.”
SN6 is the most recent prototype of the Starship spacecraft. The model passed the cryogenic test just about three weeks ago. On 23rd August, the model completed the static fire test successfully.
The test hop was performed on the Boca Chica launch site in Texas, USA. The cylindrical spacecraft resembled a grain silo with a powerful rocket engine.
After the ascent, the spacecraft hovered for a couple of moments and then descended back on its landing legs. The flight was somewhat identical to the hop of the SN5 model, which also touched a height of 150 meters above the ground. However, the main aim was to smoothen out the launch process further.
This flight marked the second test flight of a Starship prototype. SpaceX gave a visual confirmation of the test flight on Twitter:
Second 150m flight test of Starship pic.twitter.com/ROa0kQZXLI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 4, 2020
This has been quite an eventful week for the leading American aerospace company. On 31st August, SpaceX launched an Earth-observation satellite dubbed SAOCOM-1B along with two piggyback satellites, GNOMES-1 and Tyvak-0172. Yesterday, the company launched its 12th batch of Starlink satellites atop the Falcon 9 Block 5. The Starlink mega constellation is the company’s endeavor to provide low-latency, high-speed internet services on every inch of Earth.