SpaceX has been on a tear lately with several successful launches and historic milestones. Now, it has its sights set on something bigger—literally. The space company’s CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that SN5, the latest version of its Starship developmental spacecraft, will attempt to fly later this week.
Will attempt to fly later this week
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 21, 2020
Starship, of course, is the giant vehicle that SpaceX intends to use to take passengers to Mars and beyond. So far, its development has been marred by some major failures during previous tests. Hopefully, this week’s test flight will go more smoothly.
Space enthusiasts will recall that Starship’s last test went horribly wrong. The vehicle, dubbed SN4, exploded on the test pad on May 29. That failure gave SpaceX some bad press and caused confusion since it took place shortly after a successful Falcon 9 launch that sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS).
To be clear, Starship is an entirely different vehicle. It is much, much larger than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
After several delays, SpaceX is finally ready to perform some crucial tests on its fifth full-scale Starship prototype. The massive craft is expected to “hop” to a height of about 150 meters (just under 500 feet). This marks SpaceX’s first attempt at getting a full-size Starship prototype off the ground.
The test is similar to the Starhopper test that SpaceX carried out last August. Starhopper was an early, scaled-down version of the Starship spacecraft. It successfully made the 150-meter launch, paving the way for the SN5 prototype. The new vehicle is currently towering above SpaceX’s test facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.
It remains unclear exactly when it will take off this week—if at all. Prior to doing so, the craft still needs to pass a fueling test and a static fire test of its Raptor engines. Considering Starship’s track record, that isn’t as simple as it sounds.
If the vehicle is able to pass those tests, it could be lifting off for the first time in a matter of days.
Importance of Starship
SpaceX has already revolutionized the spaceflight industry. What was once the domain of government-run agencies like NASA now falls squarely in the private sector. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Rocket Lab are leading the way for the future of affordable, private spaceflight.
For Musk’s company, Starship is a major piece of the puzzle.
The massive craft will hypothetically have the power and stamina to propel humans and cargo to other planets. With SpaceX focusing on one day colonizing Mars, a vehicle like Starship will be necessary.
The test flight expected to take place this week will be an important check-in for SpaceX. Not only will it reveal how far along Starship is in the development process, it will also help determine if a major redesign is needed.
If this test ends up in another catastrophic failure, SpaceX might need to go back to the drawing board with its new Super Heavy rocket.