SpaceX attempts fourth test of Starship prototype rocket


Prototype SN10 spacecraft during its high altitude test on March 3, 2021.

Prototype SN10 spacecraft during its high altitude test on March 3, 2021.
Picture: SpaceX

AAll eyes will be on the Boca Chica launch facility in Texas today as SpaceX attempts its next high-altitude test of a Starship prototype rocket. You can watch the action live here.

It rises, it falls, it tries to land, it explodes.

This is the unfortunate scheme SpaceX hopes to put in place on Tuesday with the launch of SN11. The company run by Elon Musk actually managed to to land its predecessor, SN10, but the rocket – listing heavily and on fire—exploded a few minutes later. The first two tests, SN8 and SN9, both ended with rockets crashing into the ground and exploding into spectacular fireballs. (No one is on those rockets, it has to be said.)

Indeed, these tests quickly become unavoidable events, whatever the result. The window for today’s test at the Boca Chica – or Star Base launch facility, as Musk hopes to name it someday – is now open, but no specific launch time has been announced. You can watch the action on one of the live streams below.

A successful static fire test was carried out earlier this morning, paving the way for today’s launch.

This The launch will be a repeat of previous tests, in which the prototype climbs to a height of around 9.7 kilometers, followed by a front roll, controlled aerodynamic descent and vertical landing. Or at least an attempted vertical landing. The rocket’s three Raptor engines will stop in sequence before the free fall.

The four flap prototypes will be controlled by an “on-board flight computer to control the attitude of the spacecraft during flight and allow precise landing at the intended location,” according to a SpaceX statement. The engines will then “re-ignite when the vehicle attempts a landing rollover maneuver just before touching down on the airstrip adjacent to the launch pad.

Few details are known about the SN11 test in terms of what could be different but such as NASA’s space flight reports, the rocket can use two engines, instead of switching to one, as a “way to counter potential loss of thrust and increase redundancy during landing burn.” This makes sense, because two engines sound better than one, and it could represent a possible way to end high speed landings. Still, the calculations required to perform a vertical soft landing must be off the charts.

These tests will soon enter a new phase. SpaceX is currently deploying a massive booster rocket, which will serve as the first stage of a hybrid system known as the Starship Super Heavy. When stacked, the 119-meter-tall rocket will be taller than NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn V rocket. and even the next one from the agency Space launch system. Testing of the big booster will begin later this year with the SN15 prototype.

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