SpaceX’s founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk announced this week that SpaceX teams in South Texas would soon complete the construction of the next Starship prototype, known as SN8. Starship SN8 will be the first fully assembled stainless steel test vehicle with a top nose cone section and aerodynamic fins – which look like the initial configuration of the spacecraft. At Boca Chica assembly plant, where two research vehicles, SN5 and SN6, have already completed low-altitude test flights, the company is developing several prototypes. These vehicles didn’t look like a rocket, they look like a tank with a polished cylinder frame, atop a square mass simulator, pictured below. Each lifted off 150-meters off the ground and conducted vertical landings at the launch pad powered by a single methane-fueled Raptor engine. Starship SN8 will be the first research aircraft-which looks like a spacecraft to attempt a test flight of approximately 20 kilometers (km), equal to 60,000 feet (ft) above altitude!
The test flight of Starship SN8 would vary from those of previous launches in several respects. SN8 will be powered by a trio of powerful Raptor engines throughout the flight; it will try to dive through the sky in a ‘belly flop’ fashion, and land vertically. The firm has not tried this feat before. A SpaceX engineer Lars Blackmore, who is known for working on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 groundbreaking rocket landing system, said – “If this works, it’ll be the craziest piece of rocket gymnastics since landing Falcon 9.” The Falcon 9 is the world’s only orbital-class rocket capable of raising payload to orbit and returning from space, it lands vertically powered by Merlin engines that feature well-crafted propulsion technology. Perhaps it is one of the best technical developments SpaceX has brought to the aerospace industry.
Within a few weeks, Starship SN8 may be able to take off. “SN8 Starship with flaps and nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60,000 ft. and back.” Musk announced SpaceX’s plans this week. The company is planning to perform a test flight sometime after October 11th, according to a recent SpaceX filing by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Every test flight brings engineers closer to launching a Starship into space. Musk said the first orbital flight attempt would “probably be next year.” He noted that designing rockets and reaching orbit is hard on many occasion and that it will take hundreds of flights before Starship is able to put people on board. “I hope we do a lot of flights. The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory,” he added, “Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket.” SpaceX’s first Starship passenger, fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, booked a trip around the moon scheduled for the year 2023. Testing is expected to pick up speed at Boca Chica where Musk expects to make launching test vehicles routine to accelerate Starship’s development.
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