Once again, things are gearing up at SpaceX’s South Texas Launch Facility, located just outside the village of Boca Chica, Texas. In recent weeks, the aerospace community has been abuzz about the rollout and Static Fire test of the Super Heavy Booster 3 (B3) prototype. This was the first time a booster was tested, which will be responsible for launching the Starship to space in the near future. Since then, things have only ramped up some more.
First, there was the announcement on Aug. 2nd that the fourth Super Heavy prototype (the BN4) received a full complement of 29 Raptor engines and grid fins. This was followed on Aug. 3rd with news that BN4 was being moved to the launch pad and that the SN20 Starship prototype received a full six Raptor engines. On Aug. 6th, the denouement came with the stacking of both prototypes together, which resulted in the tallest rocket in the history of spaceflight!
It’s beginning to look like SpaceX will attempt to make the 15 km (9.3 mi) hop test before Christmas! After two successful 150 m (~500 ft) hops with the SN5 and SN6 prototypes, engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility in South Texas rolled out the SN8 – the first Starship prototype to have three Raptor engines. But before the SN8 can conduct a high-altitude test flight, the engineers needed to run a static fire test.
This test is crucial to ensuring that the Starship‘s interior plumbing can handle its cryogenic propellants, and is the last milestone before the Starship can conduct a high-altitude flight. On the evening of Tuesday, October 20th, that’s exactly what they did! At 3:13 AM local time (01:13 AM PDT; 04:13 AM EDT), the SN8 fired up its three Raptor engines and kept firing them for several seconds straight.
SpaceX has been very busy lately with the development of its Starship prototypes. Based on recent activity at its Boca Chica facility, and recent images provided by Musk himself, it looks like they are about ready to make their biggest leap yet. Yesterday, on Oct. 14th, Musk announced that the eighth prototype of the Starship (SN8) has received the three Raptor engines it will use to make its planned 15.25 km (50,000 ft).
They say that failure can be the greatest teacher of all, and it’s easy to see why. Those who learn from their mistakes become informed as to what can go wrong, and will develop the necessary strategies to avoid making the same mistake in the future. This philosophy is also at the core of SpaceX rapid-prototyping process, where full-scale models of the Starship and its components are tested to the point of failure.
At Boca Chica, SpaceX ground crews continue to follow this process in order to get the Starship ready for orbital testing. The latest piece of hardware that was tested to failure was the SN7.1 Test Tank, which was pressurized until it exploded. This test took place a week ago (on the evening of September 23rd) shortly after the SN5 and SN6 prototypes both completed a 150 m (~500 ft) hop test.
As we speak, engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica test facility are busy getting the fifth Starship prototype (SN5) ready. Having recently passed the crucial cryogenic load test, and with the installation of its SN27 Raptor engine, the ground crews are now gearing up for a static fire test. Assuming the SN5 doesn’t explode in a massive fireball (as the SN4 did), it will be ready to make the first hop test of a full-scale Starship prototype.
SpaceX is really coming along with its development of the Starship and Super Heavy launch system. After repeated delays caused by structural failures (aka. explosions), the company got back on track late in April when their fourth prototype (SN4) passed the crucial cryogenic load test. This was followed by a successful static fire test on May 4th, followed by a second static fire test the next day.
And, after being scrubbed three times since last Friday (May 15th), SpaceX conducted the third static fire test with the SN4 on Tuesday, May 19th. Unfortunately, an unexpected fire near the base of the rocket caused the prototype to get a bit scorched and caused some internal damage. However, the prototype survived and is back in working order, which means SpaceX is moving ahead with more tests in preparation for a full-scale launch.
Last week, SpaceX passed another milestone in the development of its Starship prototype. This was the crucial engine static fire test, which saw the fourth full-scale Starship prototype (SN4) ignite a fully-integrated Raptor engine for the first time. The successful test took place on Tuesday night (May 5th) at 08:57 PM local time (09:57 PM EDT; 06:57 PM PDT) and saw the Raptor engine ignite and fire for four full seconds.
On Saturday, Sept. 28th, SpaceX founder Elon Musk presided over a media circus at their testing facility in Boca, Chica, Texas. With the fully-assembled Starship Mk.1 as his backdrop, Musk shared the latest updates on the Starship launch system, which include a timetable for when the first test-flights, commercial flights and crewed flights will commence. Sometime next year, he promised, it will begin taking passengers to space!
Despite a few setbacks in the past few months, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for SpaceX. After a series of successful tethered hop tests, the ground crews at the company’s South Texas Launch Site in Boca Chica conducted the first free-flight test of the Starship Hopper late last month – which saw the test vehicle ascend to 20 meters (~65 feet), move laterally, and then land again.
Based on this success, Musk announced shortly thereafter that the company could be taking the next step and conducting a 200 meter (650 foot) hop sometime this month. This past weekend, Musk also indicated that the company will be giving further updates on the design of the finished Starship later this month, followed by a test of the “Starship Mk1”, an orbital-class prototype that will feature three Raptor engines.
Score one for SpaceX! Last night (Thursday, July 25th), after multiple delays that were causing no shortage of stress and concern, Elon Musk’s aerospace company succeeded in conducting their first untethered test with the Starhopper. This test once again validated the engine that will power the full-scale and fully-reusable Starship and its Super Heavylaunch system that will fulfill Musk’s promise of sending people to the Moon and to Mars.