SpaceX prepares spacecraft prototype for another atmospheric test flight – Spaceflight Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: SpaceX will broadcast a live video of the Starship SN11 test flight. We will incorporate live streaming on this page when available.

SpaceX’s Starship SN11 test rocket in Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to launch its next Starship test rocket as early as Friday afternoon from the company’s development complex in South Texas after losing three previous prototypes in explosions.

The privately-developed Starship test vehicle due to launch on Friday, designated SN11, will be the fourth full-size Starship vehicle to take off from SpaceX’s test site in Cameron County, Texas. Like three previous Starship test flights in December, February and earlier this month, the prototype will attempt to fly at an altitude of about 33,000 feet, or 10,000 meters, before returning to the ground for a rocket-assisted vertical landing.

SN11 is the latest in a series of prototypes for SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle that will eventually stand nearly 400 feet, or about 120 meters, and carry more than 220,000 pounds, or 100 metric tons, of cargo to the low earth orbit. That’s more lift capacity than any rocket in the world.

With life support and refueling systems in space, the starship could carry heavy cargo and people beyond Earth’s orbit. SpaceX is one of three industrial teams with a contract with NASA to design and refine concepts for a human-qualified lunar lander for the space agency’s Artemis lunar program.

The Starship program is intended to transport passengers and supplies to deep space destinations to Mars, according to Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX.

The Starship vehicle, like the one it will fly on Friday, will comprise the upper segment of the massive orbital rocket, which SpaceX also calls the Starship. The first stage booster is called Super Heavy. Both vehicles are designed to be completely reusable.

SpaceX confirmed plans for the Starship SN11 test flight on Friday on its website. The company says it plans to provide a live video feed of the Starship launch and landing.

A public post on the Cameron County website showed a road closure leading to SpaceX’s test site near Boca Chica beach until 7:30 p.m. CDT (8:30 p.m. EDT; 0030 GMT), suggesting that SpaceX probably has until 7 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. EDT; 0000 GMT) to launch the Starship SN11 test flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration has posted a no-fly zone over the Boca Chica area until 8 pm CDT (9 pm EDT; 0100 GMT).

SpaceX tested the Starship rocket on its launch pad on Friday morning, clearing the way for final launch preparations.

After draining super-cold liquid methane and liquid oxygen propellants from the rocket’s tanks, SpaceX crews returned to the Starship launch site for final inspections and assembly of the rocket’s destruction system, which would be used to terminate the flight if the vehicle threatened the public.

Once that work is complete, SpaceX plans to start loading methane and oxygen propellants onto the spacecraft again for a test flight on Friday afternoon.

The 164-foot-tall (50-meter) Starship SN11 vehicle will be propelled on takeoff by three Raptor engines that will produce more than a million pounds of thrust at full power.

After moving away from the launch pad, the Starship will shut down its three Raptor engines in sequence before the rocket reaches the cusp of its trajectory.

“SN11 will transition from thruster to the internal header tanks, which contain the landing thruster, before reorienting for reentry and controlled aerodynamic descent,” SpaceX wrote on its website.

“The Starship prototype will descend under active aerodynamic control, achieved by the independent movement of two front and two rear fins on the vehicle,” SpaceX wrote. “All four flaps are activated by an on-board flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and allow a precise landing at the intended location.

“The SN11’s Raptor engines will re-ignite when the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately prior to landing on the landing pad adjacent to the launch pad.”

The entire flight is expected to last between six and seven minutes. This time, SpaceX hopes the Starship vehicle will survive intact.

A crash landing on an otherwise successful Starship test flight on December 9 was caused by low pressure from the header tanks that power the vehicle’s Raptor engines for critical combustion just prior to landing, and one of the Raptor engines failed to re-ignite for landing combustion on a February 2 test flight.

The SN10 rocket achieved the first soft landing of a full-size Starship vehicle at the end of a test flight on March 3, but the rocket exploded minutes later.

Despite the explosion, the Starship SN10 test flight appeared to be a major achievement for SpaceX’s Starship test flight program. SpaceX aims to build on that experience with flight SN11 on Friday.

The first Super Heavy booster has been stacked inside a high bay at the SpaceX complex in Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: Elon Musk

The initial focus of SpaceX’s Starship program has been on building infrastructure at the Boca Chica test site, located on the Texas Gulf Coast near the US-Mexico border. Earlier this month, SpaceX completed stacking the first Super Heavy booster, which Musk said is a “production pioneer.”

SpaceX put together the first Super Heavy test item, called BN1, to help learn how to build and transport the 70-meter (229-foot) tall first stage, which itself is as tall as a Falcon 9 rocket used by SpaceX to operational satellites. Lance.

The second Super Heavy thruster, which is being manufactured but not yet assembled, is designed to fly, presumably on a suborbital test launch, according to Musk.

SpaceX aims to launch the first fully stacked Super Heavy and Starship in an orbital launch attempt from South Texas in July. “That’s our goal,” Musk tweeted.

An orbital launch attempt for July is an aggressive target, like many programs described by the founder and CEO of SpaceX.

The orbital version of the Starship vehicle will have six Raptor engines, including three engines with enlarged bell-shaped nozzles optimized for greater efficiency in the vacuum of space. The orbital-class starship will also have a heat shield to survive re-entry into the atmosphere.

During an orbital launch attempt, the reusable Super Heavy will detach from the spacecraft, which acts as an upper stage and carrier in space, and return to Earth for a vertical landing. The spacecraft will continue to orbit and deploy its payloads or travel to its destination in deep space, eventually returning to Earth to fly again.

SpaceX’s long-term plans for Starship operations involve the use of a floating launch pad parked in the ocean. SpaceX is converting a decommissioned offshore drilling rig for its future Super Heavy and Starship launch facility.

The Super Heavy booster will be powered by 28 Raptor engines, which will produce about 16 million pounds of thrust, more than double the power of five booster engines on NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn 5 lunar rocket.

The entire Super Heavy and Starship stack will measure about 30 feet (9 meters) across, about one and a half times the diameter of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ EstebanClark1.

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