There was no explosion in Boca Chica today! After four test flights of various prototypes of the new Starship spacecraft, five turned out to be the lucky number for Elon Musk. The prototype Starship SN15 rocket finally performed a successful test flight and the whole event was conducted on the SpaceX YouTube channel.
10 reasons why the successful flight and landing of SpaceX’s Starship SN15 is important
1. SpaceX has been developing Starship, a next-generation super-heavy rocket for several years. First of all, it will differ from its predecessors by the possibility of multiple uses of both stages, each of which will land on the ground or on a sea platform like the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.
2. In turn, according to Elon Musk’s plans, this will allow the refueling of a rocket or a station in orbit: some of the Starships’ upper stages will be used as refuelers that will be able to make several flights in a short time and without high costs.
The whole point is to have rockets and spacecraft ready for missions at all times instead of the usual months or years-long wait. This is particularly important for future manned missions to the Moon and Mars, requiring regular deliveries of oxygen, water, food, and equipment from Earth.
3. Tests of SpaceX’s new rocket are progressing with varying degrees of success and today’s test is a good reason for celebrations. For example, the SN8 prototype took off 12 kilometers but was unable to brake and crashed on landing. In turn, the SN10 tests were more successful: the rocket reached the ground, but a few minutes later, after the end of the official video broadcast, it exploded.
4. Starship SN15 successfully completed flight tests on May 5th without exploding during the landing. Initially, all three Raptor engines were started and were later shut down one by one as planned. Finally, the prototype reached the target height of 10 kilometers. Previous prototypes “SN8”, “SN9”, “SN10” and “SN11” also reached the desired apogee.
5. The difficulty is in landing – an extremely complex task after a rocket flight. So complex that most developers do not try to achieve it at all. Globally, only SpaceX regularly returns first stages after orbital missions and launches them again.
In addition, Blue Origin launches multiple suborbital rockets. At the end of last year, Rocket Lab returned a degree for the first time, and in the more distant past, the segments of solid propellant accelerators were collected and recycled.
6. But SpaceX’s Starship is something very different from the shuttles, the Blue Origin suborbital, or the Rocket Lab micro rocket. This is a large spacecraft that SpaceX is developing for manned missions to the moon and Mars. In order to be able to populate the solar system, we need just such an aircraft that flies many times.
7. There were fears that the prototype could follow the fate of the SN10, as a fire broke out in the area, but the automatic systems quickly extinguished it. The tanks were then emptied, bringing the mission to a complete success.
8. A conspicuous part of the surface of the SN15 prototype was covered with black thermal insulation tiles. At this stage of testing, it is not needed, but without it, test suborbital flights will be impossible, before which it is necessary to find out how the tiles withstand the vibration of engines and temperature drops from cryogenic fuel.
9. In late April, NASA instructed SpaceX to develop a lunar version of Starship for a flight to the moon under the Artemis program, but after a protest from competitors, work was suspended until the verdict of the Chamber of Commerce.
10. Of course, Starship is still in the initial stages of development. So far, rockets have flown only 10-kilometer suborbital missions. Towards the middle of the year, it is expected that SpaceX will launch its first payload into orbit.
Musk expects success in space, but landing after reaching orbital speed will be even more difficult than the current “jumps”. The predictions are that a significant number of Starship rockets will break until they achieve stability as in the “Falcon 9”.
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• Chang, K., & Roston, M. (2021, May 05). SpaceX successfully LANDS prototype of Mars and moon rocket after test flight.
• Tangermann, V. (2021, May 05). Spacex just landed starship without it exploding.
• Wall, M. (2021, May 05). SpaceX launches starship SN15 rocket and sticks the landing in high-altitude test flight.