Update April 30, 2021: SpaceX did not perform the test flight of its Starship SN15 on Friday, April 30. The flight was cleaned up. The launch of the eagerly awaited test has been expected for several days. Bad weather conditions, including lightning, may have caused the scrub.
SpaceX develops Starship – what he calls a “fully reusable transport system designed to transport both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, to the Moon, to Mars and beyond” – and NASA chose this system as a lunar lander for its crewed Artemis program. Artemis is intended to transport the first man since the 1970s, and the first woman in history, to the moon of that decade. The final system will be paired with a giant SpaceX rocket thruster known as the Very heavy. SpaceX tested its latest prototype spacecraft this week at its South Texas site, Starbase. The prototype – SN15 (series n ° 15) – underwent its first static fire test on Monday April 26, 2021, and a second static fire test on Tuesday. During these tests, the craft remained on the ground while its three Raptor engines briefly ignited. But Starship is not designed to stay anchored on Earth. The big test is the high altitude test, in which it will rise about 10 km to the top. This test flight was sought after, especially towards the end of this week. But that hasn’t happened yet, and SpaceX hasn’t officially announced a launch date.
The Starship SN15’s static fire is over, preparing for flight later this week
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2021
SN15 will be the fifth Starship prototype to attempt this ascending flight in less than five months. The four before him – SN8 through SN11 – all flew well until the very end, when each exploded into a dramatic fire show. See the amazing video comparison at the end of this article. SN10 landed in one piece, but exploded on the airstrip about eight minutes later. SN11 launched about a month ago on March 30, reaching maximum altitude as planned, then exploding on landing due to a “plumbing problem,” said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon musk announced a week later. Essentially, there was too much methane in the combustion chamber, so the pressure was too high.
And so SN15 had a lot of “tweaks” hopefully to keep it from blowing up. SpaceX has built a reputation for persistence in failure, and it has the funds and resources to keep building prototypes and trying again. Starship and Super Heavy will be fully and quickly reusable, which could significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight, said Elon Musk.
SpaceX expects Starship to eventually succeed, and who could doubt that? They expect Starship and Super Heavy to be up and running soon. The oft-mentioned date for the final system to be fully operational is 2023. The Artemis program has a stated goal of getting humans back to the Moon – especially in the South Pole region of the Moon – by 2024, although many believe that this goal is not achievable.
Read more: NASA’s lunar program – Artemis – reinforced during White House press briefing
According to Elon Musk, the reason SpaceX switched from SN11 to SN15 is that it was built at the same time as SN12, SN13, and SN14, but with major improvements. For this reason, SpaceX engineers decided to work with SN15 rather than finish building SN12 – SN14, which engineers already know are obsolete at this point. A similar scrapping is expected to occur with Starships SN18 and SN19. SN20 will likely have another round of major upgrades, and SpaceX currently has an ambitious goal of having SN20 fly into orbit with Super Heavy before July.
SN15’s first static fire came just three days after the launch of Crew-2, SpaceX’s second crewed operational mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon capsule lit up the pre-dawn sky above historic Platform 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, taking off at 5:49 a.m. EST (9:49 a.m. UTC; translate UTC to your time). It docked with the ISS in early April 24.
The videos below show the incredible handling and explosive fate of some of Starship’s previous test flights, over the past few months. The first video was posted by IssueKitchen on YouTube, who commented:
Elon Musk will never give up.
Conclusion: SpaceX conducted its second “static fire” test of the Starship SN15 on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in preparation for its high altitude test flight, in which the vehicle will soar about 10 km uphill. The high altitude test, scheduled for Friday, April 30, was cleaned up probably due to bad weather and postponed to a future date as yet unknown.
Learn more about EarthSky: Take off! 4 astronauts from the Crew-2 mission fly to the ISS