SpaceX has made significant progress on an ambitious spacecraft project to colonize the Moon and Mars: today, late at night, the Starship SN5 prototype successfully made its maiden flight – it rose 150 meters, shifted slightly to the side and softly landed on a nearby site near the launch site. “[Полет на] Mars is becoming real, “SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted, commenting on the first flight tests.
Starship and Super Heavy are promising super-heavy rocket and spacecraft being developed by SpaceX to replace the current family of Falcon rockets and Dragon ships. The second stage simultaneously acts as a manned or cargo spacecraft. The rocket is being designed as fully reusable, both of its stages will be able to make a soft landing after a flight into space. The rocket will be capable of delivering cargo weighing up to 150 tons to low-earth orbit in a fully reusable configuration with the return of both stages (Super Heavy and Starship) to Earth, as well as the possibility of docking and refueling in orbit.
Last year, SpaceX conducted a series of successful tests on a scaled-down Starhopper mockup (aka pepelats and “water tower”) – first there were static tests of the Starhopper engine on land, and then we saw the first flight tests of the Starhopper test with ascents to altitudes of 20 and 150 m.
The SN5 is the fifth full-size Starship prototype. The previous four (Mk1, SN1, SN3 and SN4) were destroyed in earlier stages of testing. Earlier Musk said that in order to create an orbital prototype of Starship, at least 20 such prototypes would need to be built. As noted many times, SpaceX has been forced to abandon the traditional design approach in favor of an aggressive rapid prototyping approach with constant significant design changes (read: refinement during testing).
SN5 tests took place at the SpaceX cosmodrome in the village of Boca Chica near Brownsville in southern Texas, where all the main work on the project is being carried out, and were broadcast live on the YouTube channel NASASpaceflight. The jump itself can be seen in the video below.
And here’s an accelerated version:
The stainless steel wiggle of excitement at the top. 😂
Video from @BocaChicaGal via our @NASASpaceflight livestream:
🖥️https: //t.co/Mv0C5M6m8f pic.twitter.com/DBNu1YSKeD
– Kerbal Space Academy (@KSpaceAcademy) August 5, 2020
A better video of the tests was published by SpaceX itself on its YouTube channel. It was assembled from frames captured by two cameras: one of them was installed on the drone and filmed the launch from the air, and the second was fixed directly on the rocket itself. The video allows, among other things, to see the operation of the Raptor methane-oxygen engine.
Previously, SN5 successfully passed cryogenic tests with fuel injection, and then firing tests with engine start. The SN5 has only one Raptor engine and no fenders. The final version of Starship will receive six engines, of which one half will be optimized for maneuvering at low altitudes and in dense atmospheres, and the other will be adapted for work in airless space.
According to Elon Musk, SpaceX will soon conduct several more such tests with low-altitude flights, after which a suborbital launch will take place, in which the prototype spacecraft will rise to an altitude of 20 kilometers (half the distance to the upper boundary of the atmosphere) and land back at the cosmodrome. After about 10 test orbital launches, SpaceX expects to produce the first demo manned Starship launch without humans.
The team is currently working on the next SN6 and SN7 prototypes, which could receive three engines and air rudders.
Recall that initially we were promised an orbital test launch by April 2020. But Elon Musk is known for his habit of giving too optimistic assessments and it was immediately clear that the time frame could be increased two to three times. Now the first full launch of the final version of the rocket is tentatively scheduled for 2021.
Previously, SpaceX estimated the Starship project at $ 5 billion, how much it has spent on the development of the project to date is unknown. And while Starship is scheduled to eventually replace all of SpaceX’s other rockets and spaceships, Elon Musk’s company continues to develop its other projects. NASA previously selected SpaceX to deliver cargo to the station using a Falcon Heavy rocket and a new cargo ship Dragon XL, and also instructed Musk’s company to develop a lander for the Artemis manned lunar mission.
It remains to add that SpaceX has already chosen a site for the construction of a plant and an engineering center in the Port of Los Angeles, where the Starship interplanetary spacecraft will be developed and assembled, and also plans to create a version of Starship for hypersonic passenger transportation on Earth, having built the appropriate infrastructure for this – floating spaceports.