For almost a year now, SpaceX has been building a series of prototypes of spacecraft that will test how the system works when launched into orbit. After successful jump tests with the Starship Hopper, these tests will validate the spacecraft and its Raptor engines in space. Unfortunately, the company encountered some hiccups with these prototypes, as the first two exploded during pressure tests.
The first prototype, Starship Mk.1, exploded on the launch pad on November 20, 2019, during a cryogenic loading test which caused its nose cone to fly. The second prototype, SN1, also exploded during a pressure test on the evening of February 28, 2020, which blew up the fuselage to 300 meters (1,000 feet). Undeterred, Musk recently shared images of the components of the SN3 prototype being assembled.
Shortly after sharing these images, the assembled components were seen on the way to the company’s testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on the morning of March 29. They were then seen being transferred to the launch pad by a roll-lift and a crane in the late afternoon. Images of these two events were captured by the LabPadre and shared via Twitter.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2020
Like its predecessors, the next step for SN3 will be cryogenic loading tests in which the methane and oxygen tanks of the spacecraft will be filled with a cryogenic liquid (most likely liquid nitrogen). During this test, the first prototype suffered a failure which caused an eruption of its upper partition which caused the front cone to fly. The bottom bulkhead then exploded, sending cryogenic vapor all over the landing area.
The second prototype experienced a similar failure, an eruption having occurred near the bottom, which sent the upper part in the air and the fuselage to implode. The upper section then landed on its side and suffered a second explosion, this time from the top. Hopefully SN3 will fare better – Musk hopes to use it for short test flights to the Earth’s atmosphere.
In one previous statement, Musk announced that SN3 would be used for static fire tests and short flights, while longer test flights would wait for SN4. As Musk said, the priority is currently on producing additional Starship test vehicles and Raptor engines. There are also reports that SpaceX will be testing next week.
The documents, which were shared on NASASpaceFlight, refer to a license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the “Starhopper” vehicle, valid until June 2020. They also suggest that a static fire in the engines of the SN3 could take place between the 1st and the April 3, followed by a 150 meter (500 ft) Jump Test between April 6 and 8. It was the maximum height produced by the Starship Hopper.
It is not yet known whether these recent setbacks will change Musk’s long-term plans. Once the Starship is complete and integrated into the Super Heavy booster, Musk hopes to start making payload races to the moon by 2022, followed by surface crew missions by 2024. In between, Musk has also intend to conduct the first lunar tourism mission (#dearmoon), which will involve sending a team of artists around the moon in 2023.
Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to deploy satellite batches as part of its Starlink constellation and will deliver commercial payloads to the ISS and the moon. These will be carried out under its Commercial Crew Development (CCD) and Cargo Transport and Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) contracts with NASA, respectively.
Good luck to you SN3! Hope to see you take this leap test and return safely to Earth. If all goes well, we can’t wait to see SN4 reaching orbit too!
The universe today
SpaceX almost ready to start testing the third spaceship prototype (2020, April 1)
retrieved April 1, 2020
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