SpaceX Starship SN4 ticks off multiple boxes en route to its first 'hop' slated for later in May

SpaceX intends for the Starship to make an uncrewed test flight to an altitude of roughly 500 ft, or 150 meters, soon.


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 spaceshipthe Starhopper – pulled off in 2019.

via Gfycat

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.

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.

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.

 SpaceX Starship SN4 ticks off multiple boxes en route to its first hop slated for later in May

A glimpse of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft shining on SpaceX's testing grounds in Boca Chica, Texas. Image credit: Pauline Acalin

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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