SpaceX Almost Ready to Start Testing its Third Starship Prototype. Let’s Hope it Doesn’t Explode

For almost a year now, SpaceX has been building a series of Starship prototypes that will test how the system fares when launched to orbit. Coming on the heels of successful hop tests with the Starship Hopper, these tests will validate the spacecraft and its Raptor engines in space. Unfortunately, the company has encountered some hiccups with these prototypes, where the first two exploded during pressure testing.

The first prototype, Starship Mk.1, exploded on the launchpad on November 20th, 2019, during a cryogenic loading test that sent its nose cone flying. The second prototype, SN1, also exploded during a pressure test on the evening of Feb. 28th, 2020, which caused the fuselage to jump up to 300 meters (1000 ft). Undeterred, Musk recently shared images of the components for the SN3 prototype undergoing assembly.

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SpaceX Has Requested Permission to Fly Starship as Early as March

In September of 2019, SpaceX unveiled the first Starship prototype, the first of several test vehicles that would validate the design of the next-generation spacecraft that would fulfill Musk’s promise of making commercial flights to the Moon and Mars. And while there was a bit of a setback in November of 2019 after the Mk. 1 suffered a structural failure, Musk indicated that the company would be moving forward with other prototypes.

As Musk explained at the time, this would consist of the Mk. 3 prototype conducting an orbital test flight to an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) sometime in 2020. According to recent filings made with the FCC, this test could be happening as early as mid-March and will involve the vehicle launching from the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and flying to an altitude of 20 km (12.6 mi) before landing.

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Starship Mk 1 Blows its Top During Testing

SpaceX has been on a roll lately. With the completion of tethered and untethered flight tests with the Starship Hopper, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the newly-completed Starship Mk 1 prototype and announced that orbital test flights would commence in a few months. Meanwhile, the Starlink constellation got started with the launch of its first 60 satellites, followed by 60 more upgraded versions.

Unfortunately, there are always some speed bumps along the way. Yesterday, during a cryogenic loading test, the Starship Mk 1 experienced an explosion that sent its top bulkhead flying off and dispersing frozen vapor all over the launch area. However, SpaceX has indicated in an official statement that this setback was not unforeseen and won’t hamper the orbital flight test of the prototype for long.

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SpaceX is Sure They’ll be Able to Land Starship on the Moon in 2022

Things are looking pretty good for Elon Musk and SpaceX, the company he founded back in 2002 with the intent of reinvigorating space exploration. In the last six months alone, SpaceX has deployed the first batch of its Starlink broadband internet satellites to space, conducted two successful untethered tests with the Starship Hopper, and finished work on the first orbital-class Starship test vehicle (the Mk.1).

And at the 70th International Astronautical Congress, which took place last week in Washington, DC, SpaceX president and Chief Operations Officer Gwynne Shotwell provided additional details about the Starship‘s mission timeline. As she indicated during a series of interviews, the company hopes to be sending the Starship to orbit next year, landing on the Moon by 2022, and sending payloads to the lunar surface by 2024.

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Musk Presents the Orbital Starship Prototype. Flights will Begin in Six Months

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!

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Elon Musk Outlines the Next Few Weeks of Starship Tests

Artist's illustration of the SpaceX Starship. Credit: SpaceX

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.

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Big News! SpaceX’s Starhopper Test Vehicle Completes First Free Flight!

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 Heavy launch system that will fulfill Musk’s promise of sending people to the Moon and to Mars.

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First Free Flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper Aborted After Engine Fire

Yesterday, on Wednesday, July 24th, the prototype test vehicle for the Starship (the Starhopper) commenced its first untethered “hop test” at the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. This test is an important milestone for SpaceX, intended to validate the Raptor engine in free flight and bring the company one step closer to creating the super-heavy launch system that will allow for trips to the Moon and Mars.

Unfortunately, the ground team was forced to abort the test due to a fire that began shortly after engine ignition. This comes shortly after a static fire test that took place last Tuesday, July 16th where the newly-installed Raptor engine erupted in a sudden and unexpected fireball. Though no damage appears to have been caused (again, thankfully!), this latest flare-up represents another technical glitch and another delay for the Starship.

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Starhopper Tests Have Gotten Delayed Because of “Ice Formation in the Cryogenic Propellant Prevalves”

The prototype Starship. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is continuing with the development of their Starship Hopper, a miniature, stainless steel version of its proposed super-heavy lift vehicle known as the Starship. Most recently, test were conducted on the revolutionary heat shield that will protect the Hopper once it reenters Earth’s atmosphere, and a new rendering was released that showed the final version entering the atmospheres of Earth and Mars.

Another recent development has to do with the first scheduled test of the miniature Starship, which began in earnest last week. Unfortunately, there has been a bit of a delay due to some technical issues with the cryogenic fuel tanks. As usual, Musk made the announcement via twitter in response to questions about when the much-anticipated flight test will happen, which has been delayed multiple times now.

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