SpaceX - Starship (Unofficial) patch.
May 5, 2021
Image above: Starship prototype SN15 undergoing a cryogenic test in April 2021 at SpaceX’s South Texas site. SN15 has been fitted with many updates, in hopes of preventing it from exploding, as have 4 earlier Starship prototype vehicles within the past 5 months. Image via SpaceX.
SpaceX’s test flight of Starship SN15 went off without a hitch today, May 5, 2021. Following 4 Starship prototypes that exploded upon landing after their high-altitude flight tests, the SN15 landed safely.
Starship | SN15 | High-Altitude Flight Test. Video Credit: SpaceX
Fifth time’s the charm. After four unsuccessful attempts at high-altitude test flights for its Starship prototype, SpaceX now has successfully launched and landed its most recent prototype, Serial Number 15 or SN15. The launch took place late in the day on May 5, 2021 at SpaceX’s South Texas facility. Starship soared about 6 miles (10 km) upwards and then returned to Earth, landing upright. SpaceX calls Starship a “fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond.” NASA has chosen this system as the moon lander for its crewed Artemis program, intended to carry the first man since the 1970s, and first woman ever, to the moon in this decade.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the landing:
The prototype had undergone a series of tests last week. The high-altitude test flight was originally scheduled for April 30, but it had been delayed several times. Now the high-altitude test has been accomplished. The final system will be paired with a giant SpaceX rocket booster known as Super Heavy.
SN15 was the fifth Starship prototype to attempt this upward flight in less than five months. The four before it – SN8 through SN11 – all flew well until the very end, when each exploded in a dramatic show of fire. See the amazing video comparison at the end of this post. SN10 landed in one piece, but blew up on the landing pad about eight minutes later. SN11’s launch took place about a month ago on March 30, soaring to its maximum altitude as planned, then exploding upon landing due to a “plumbing problem,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced a week later. Essentially, there was too much methane in the combustion chamber and the pressure was therefore too high.
And thus SN15 has had many “adjustments,” to keep it from exploding. SpaceX has built a reputation for persevering through failure, and it has the funds and resources to continue building prototypes and trying again. Both Starship and Super Heavy will be fully and rapidly reusable, potentially cutting the cost of spaceflight dramatically, Elon Musk has said.
SpaceX's Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and land safe
SpaceX expects its Starship to succeed and perhaps even develop a form of routine, and who could doubt it? They expect Starship and Super Heavy to be up and running soon. The date often mentioned for the final system to be fully operational is 2023. The Artemis program has the stated goal of returning humans to the moon – specifically to the moon’s south pole region – by 2024, although many believe that goal is not feasible.
According to Elon Musk, SpaceX’s reason for jumping from SN11 to SN15 is that it was built at the same time as SN12, SN13, and SN14, but with major improvements. For that reason, SpaceX engineers have decided to run with SN15 rather than finish building SN12–SN14, which the engineers already know are outdated at this point. It’s expected that a similar scrapping will happen with Starships SN18 and SN19. SN20 will likely have another set of major upgrades, and SpaceX currently has the ambitious goal of flying SN20 to orbit with Super Heavy before July.
SpaceX's Starship prototype landed safely. Image via SpaceX
SN15’s first static fire came just three days after the launch of Crew-2, SpaceX’s second operational crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon capsule lit up the predawn skies over historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, blasting off at 5:49 a.m. Eastern (09:49 UTC; translate UTC to your time). It docked with the ISS early April 24.
SpaceX Starship SN15 1st test flight expected soon
Images (mentioned), Animation, Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: SpaceX/EarthSky/Lia Rovira/TechCrunch.