tech2 News StaffMay 19, 2020 16:38:47 IST
SpaceX's latest edition of its interplanetary vehicle, the Starship prototype dubbed "SN4", passed two key tests in its development in the month of May. SN4 is the latest edition of SpaceX's pathfinder Mars spacecraft, and these successes have edged it closer to its much-anticipated test flight scheduled for the second half of 2020.
But in the near future – as early as end of May – SpaceX plans for the Starship to do a 150-metre "hop test" similar to one that the scaled version of the spaceship – the Starhopper – pulled off in 2019.
The rocket-in-the-making aced a high-pressure and high-thrust simulation trial on 9 May at SpaceX's testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a brief update on the test earlier in May.
SN4 passed high pressure (7.5 bar) & engine thrust load at cryo
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 10, 2020
SN4 🔥 soon. Raptor looks so smōl. pic.twitter.com/WcMdo6wAtj
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 4, 2020
So far, the SN4 has already seen two 'cryo' test successes. The vehicle was tested for endurance under pressure (of 4.9 bar) in the earlier test, and 7.5 bar in a later test, Musk said in a tweet. It has also performed two 'static fires' tests, lighting up its lone Raptor engine briefly (on 5 May, and then again on 7 May 2020), and remaining firmly on the ground throughout.
Starship SN4 STATIC FIRE!
First time a Raptor has fired up on a SpaceX Starship. They'll be reviewing, so let's hope the data shows it was a good test!
— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 6, 2020
In these 'cryo' tests, the spacecraft prototype is loaded with liquid nitrogen at ultra-low temperatures, to simulate the conditions the engine will experience during a real mission, where an ultracold liquid propellant will be used to burn the methane fuel in SpaceX's proprietary Raptor engine.
The Raptor engine is, put very simply, an enormous methane tank tucked on top of an enormous liquid oxygen (LOX) propellant tank to propel a spacecraft beyond the Earth's orbit, lifted by the Super Heavy rocket, which is also still in development. Both the two static fire tests that Starship has been put through featured one of the six proposed Raptor engines in the fully-developed Starship rocket.
The fully-developed and tested Starship Raptor engine is designed with the intention of carrying spacecraft like the SpaceX Starhopper to orbit in the years to come, then the Moon, and ultimately, Mars.
SpaceX intends for the Starship to make an uncrewed test flight to an altitude of roughly 500 feet (150 meters) soon, with the prototype checking off a lot of boxes on the road to that liftoff. According to a Space.com report, that's probably as high as the SN4 will go. That said, SpaceX is already building its successor, the three-engine SN5, which Musk has said will target a test-flight altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers), the report adds.
Also read: SpaceX completes first test of a new Raptor engine for its Mars-bound BFR rocket
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