SpaceX ramping up Starship development, tests S4 prototype

SpaceX ramping up Starship development, tests S4 prototype

SpaceX ramps up Starship SN4 development, Elon Musk documents prototype testing a month before its launch date.

As SpaceX is busy preparing for the first manned space flight from U.S. soil since 2011, the company is also steadily ramping up Starship development by successfully testing its fourth prototype design.

On April 27, the company tested the fourth Starship prototype in its Texas facility successfully. The Starship project is SpaceX’s attempt to design a reusable spacecraft that is capable of bringing humans to and from the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Cylinder of steel

The prototype, given the callsign Starship SN4 by the company (for Serial No. 4), is a cylinder made of stainless steel that looks just like a really large water tank. Elon Musk tweeted a photo of the tank after it had been rolled onto its test stand in Boca Chica, South Texas.

The tank has been designed to undergo pressure tests similar to conditions it would encounter in actual use due to the cryogenic properties of the fuel the craft would be using. While Musk is more optimistic about the potential results of the test from this model as compared to some of its predecessors.

A redesign

According to Space, the SN series is the result of a redesign of the Starship Mk1, which had a difficult time passing its own pressure test last November 2019. The supercold fuel to be used by the Starship’s engines tend to exert very high pressures on the frame of the vehicle, and a design that could withstand this issue.

The SN series of tests were designed to address this cryogenic pressure issue. As the name implies, SN4 is the fourth prototype in this series.

The first prototype failed the tests for a variety of reasons. SN2, tested in March, passed the pressure test, but an issue with leaky valves led to the failure of SN3.

SN4 was designed to address these flaws. On April 27, it was able to pass its cryogenic test. Musk tweeted a video of the successful test early that day, expressing relief in the new prototype’s successful test.

Future prototypes and 12 miles in the air

The overall short-term goal of the Starship prototypes, for now, is to have a prototype that can achieve stability under pressurization. This means that a design that can repeatedly withstand cryogenic pressures confidently.

Once this is achieved, the company plans to move forward with a static-fire engine test, according to The Monitor.

Once a successful static engine test is done with a degree of confidence, SpaceX would then proceed to test the prototype’s ability to “hop.” This means the company would test a Starship prototype’s ability to lift off from the testing stand and achieve a height of 500 meters.

This would require a stable design that can keep itself together despite the internal combustion pressure, the vertical lift from its engines, and the constant pull of gravity on an object of that size and mass.

To that end, SpaceX is already planning the future versions of the Starship prototype. The SN5 and SN6 designs are currently in the works, with each prototype bringing more and more visual and physical elements into the mix.

Musk is personally targeting the inclusion of flaps into the structure of the prototype by its sixth iteration.

Image courtesy of Elon Musk/ Twitter

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