SpaceX set for its third major Starship flight test on Wednesday


Starship SN10 on the platform on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Enlarge / Starship SN10 on the platform on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Trevor mahlmann

SpaceX may launch its third full-scale prototype spacecraft, called Serial Number 10, or SN10, on Wednesday from south Texas.

With this vehicle, the company will seek to successfully land the Starship vehicle where the last two versions, SN8 and SN9, each failed in the final seconds of the mission to stabilize for a controlled landing. Both flights ended in fire at the landing site. SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk has estimated around a 60 percent chance of success this time, suggesting the probability is slightly higher than that, given his penchant for setting expectations.

As in the two previous flights, which took place in December and early February, SpaceX will launch its Starship vehicle at an altitude of about 10 km under the power of three Raptor engines. There, it will switch from its main propellant tanks to smaller ones near the top of the vehicle and perform a “belly drop” maneuver, reorienting itself to simulate return from orbit. This allows Starship to eliminate speed and ensure reuse without a massive heat shield.

The challenge will be to successfully re-ignite the last two of the three Raptor engines close to the ground to slow the descent of the vehicle and make a controlled landing. There will be guaranteed entertainment, regardless.

SpaceX has already received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for this launch, and the window opens at 9 a.m. (15:00 UTC) local time in South Texas. As always, preparatory activities will likely delay testing further in the window, and there may be unplanned hold-ups or the need to empty the tank and refuel as part of the testing program. But the weather looks great, with clear, sunny skies in South Texas.

The test comes a day after Yusaku Maezawa announced an update to the “dearMoon” mission that he has purchased from Starship. This flight will send the Japanese billionaire and 10 other people on a trip to the moon, and back, for a week-long mission on Starship. This is expected to be the first human flight beyond low Earth orbit in the vehicle and should go further from Earth than any previous human mission.

Maezawa said he was running an online competition to “join the crew” and welcomed people to apply. You will choose “talented” and “creative” people who want to inspire others about space, share the journey with those who returned to Earth, and who are willing to be good crew members.

The video announcement included some comments from Musk about preparing Starship for a mission that could launch in 2023. “I’m very confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023, and that it will be safe enough. for human transportation by 2023, “Musk said.” It looks very promising. “

We’re not entirely sure the date 2023, but it sounds like fun. Maezawa admitted that he was a bit nervous about the flight, but said he was more curious about what’s out there. None of this will happen, of course, until SpaceX safely flies Starship into orbit, and vice versa, dozens of times. Iterative steps toward that goal will continue with the flight test on Wednesday.

Video of the flight will be included below when the SpaceX webcast goes live.

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