Watch live this week: SpaceX may attempt Starship SN9 launch
SpaceX’s Starship SN9 vehicle may attempt its first launch during a three-day window that closes Jan. 27, according to a U.S. Coast Guard alert. You can see views here, courtesy of NASASpaceflight.com. If SpaceX does attempt a launch this week, the company will likely announce a webcast of its own and that will be available here once released.
NASASpaceflight.com cited high winds as one of the likely reasons the SN9 ship did not launch on Monday (Jan. 25).
This week’s Starship SN9 launch follows a series of engine static-fire tests to check the three Raptor engines that will power the prototype rocket’s launch. SpaceX successfully test-fired the engines on Friday (Jan. 25), with earlier tests occurring on Jan. 6, Jan. 13 and Jan. 21.
An earlier Starship prototype, called SN8, launched on its own high-altitude test on Dec. 9. That flight reached an altitude of 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers), with the rocket successfully performing two flip maneuvers to reach its landing site. It failed to land successfully when it hit the ground too hard.
Starship SN9 – SpaceX is developing Starship to carry people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other cosmic destinations. The transportation system consists of two elements, both of which will be fully and rapidly reusable: the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Starship spacecraft and a huge booster known as Super Heavy.
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Find out what the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station are up to by tuning in to the “ISS Live” broadcast. Hear conversations between the crew and mission controllers on Earth and watch them work inside the U.S. segment of the orbiting laboratory. When the crew is off duty, you can enjoy live views of Earth from Space. You can watch and listen in the window below, courtesy of NASA.
Starship SN9 – What is Starship?
Starship/Super Heavy is SpaceX’s next-generation super heavy-lift reusable launch vehicle. The first stage, known as Super Heavy, will produce 71.2 MN of thrust, while the Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever flown, produced 34 MN of thrust. This will make it the most powerful rocket ever made. When it’s operational, Starship will liftoff from either Boca Chica, Texas; Cape Canaveral, Florida; or an offshore launch platform.
Starship is SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars and dramatically bring down the cost of space travel. With an estimated eventual cost of $2 million per flight, Starship will be one of the cheapest orbital rockets ever, especially on a cost-per-kilogram basis. Starship will be able to carry 100 tonnes to just about anywhere, due to orbital refuelling.
Starship SN9 – Starship variants
There will be several Starship variants including a cargo variant with a clam shell-like opening to deploy satellites, a crewed variant with life support systems and crew habitation areas in place of a cargo bay, and a lunar variant without flaps and with additional thrusters.
Since Starship is the second stage of the rocket and not just a spaceship, it will have to use most of its fuel to insert itself into orbit. To enable Starship to carry out deep-space missions with 100-tonne payloads, SpaceX will also have a tanker Starship variant. This variant will be similar in appearance to the cargo version, but will have additional fuel tanks instead of a payload bay. This Starship will dock by the engine bay with another Starship carrying either crew or cargo in low Earth orbit (LEO) and refuel it. It may take several rendezvous and refuellings in LEO before a Starship has enough fuel to continue its journey deeper into space.
The future of Starship
Starship is designed to revolutionize travel not only in space, but on Earth as well. If Starship’s goals for airplane-like safety and reliability pan out, it could be used for suborbital point-to-point Earth travel. With a relatively low price tag, a fairly average person could be anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
After stage separation, the Super Heavy booster will perform a boost-back burn and a re-entry burn to slow itself down enough to return to launch site. The booster will perform a fourth and final burn to land either on or near the launch pad.
After the completion of its mission, Starship will perform a deorbit burn then reorientate to re-enter heat shield-first. Reentry will bleed off most of the vehicle’s velocity. Just prior to landing, Starship will reorientate itself again to perform a propulsive vertical landing. Starship and Super Heavy will then be restacked, refueled, then launched again.
Raptor is SpaceX’s newest rocket engine. It’s the only full-flow staged combustion cycle engine to have ever flown. It’s able to produce about 2,300 kN (500,000 lbs) of thrust, making it twice as powerful as SpaceX’s workhorse Merlin engine.
The fact that Raptor is a full-flow staged combustion cycle (FFSCC) engine makes it unique among rocket engines. In a closed cycle rocket engine (which Raptor is), the fuel used to spin up the turbines is directed into the combustion chamber rather than being ejected out of a preburner. This means all fuel fed into the engine is combusted, resulting in a more efficient engine. Additionally, all of the fuel is burnt in the preburners and sent to the combustion chamber as gas, which allows Raptor to achieve higher pressures, and in turn, higher thrust and specific impulse.
Starship SN9 – History of Starship
Interplanetary Transport System
The history of Starship goes back to at least 2012 when it was known as Mars Colonial Transporter. At that time, it wasn’t much more than a few murmurings from Elon, but more detailed plans were unveiled in 2016 at the International Astronautical Congress. A two-stage carbon-fiber vehicle was announced. The vehicle, now dubbed Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), would be 122 meters (400 ft) tall and 12 meters in diameter. In an expendable configuration, the vehicle could carry over 500 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). In a reusable configuration, it could carry 300 tonnes to LEO, more than double that of the Saturn V.
Big Falcon Rocket
At the 2017 International Astronautics Congress, a major redesign was announced. The name was changed to Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). It was downsized slightly, to only 9 meters in diameter. Small delta wings were added to the vehicle to control it and induce drag during re-entry. The BFR was a smaller and more feasible design, which was intended to launch to Mars as a cargo variant in 2022, with a crewed flight following two years later. Construction of a prototype vehicle started in early 2018 at the Port of Los Angeles but was later scrapped.
Starship SN9 – In September of 2018, SpaceX announced another major redesign. The vehicle now featured three rear fins, that doubled as landing legs, and two forward canards for control during atmospheric re-entry. At the same event, it was also announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa was partially funding Starship development and would be one of the passengers during Starship’s first crewed trip around the moon. He, along with several different types of artists, is planned to take a flight around the moon in Starship as part of the #dearMoon project, with the goal of inspiring the artists to create works that inspire people back on Earth. A few months after this event the vehicle was renamed to Starship/Superheavy.
The big switch
Starship SN9 – In December 2018, Elon Musk announced that Starship had switched from being built out of carbon-fiber to being built out of stainless steel. He explained that the particular alloy they were using was significantly cheaper than carbon-fiber and got 50 percent stronger at cryogenic temperatures. The material is also tough at high temperatures, meaning it needs less heat shielding compared to what the previous carbon-fiber design would have required. The parts of the vehicle not exposed to the most intense heat would be cooled by liquid fuel “sweating” through tiny pores in the steel.
Starship Mk1 and Mk2
While testing Starhopper, SpaceX also began constructing its first of two full-scale prototype vehicles: Mk1 in Boca Chica and Mk2 in Cocoa, Florida. Elon Musk announced on Twitter that the teams at each facility were in a race to orbit. Each team constructed the vehicles using their own techniques, but they were required to share anything they learned along the way. Because SpaceX had already started constructing their first two full-scale Starship prototypes as Starhopper was undergoing testing, for the first time 2019’s Starship presentation took place in front of an actual Starship mock-up. Mk1 was rolled out to the launch site on October 30, 2019.
Starship SN9 – SN3 was the next prototype and sported the newly redesigned thrust puck. It was smoother than SN1 and had many improvements. Unfortunately, a testing configuration error caused the vehicle to lose pressure in its lower tank and collapse during a cryogenic test. It wasn’t the fault of the vehicle this time, but actually the fault of the ground support equipment (GSE). The GSE was unable to keep the two tanks in the vehicle at similar pressures. The lower tank crumpled under the weight of the upper tank.
Starship SN4 and first static fires
Starship SN9 – After the SN3 failure, SpaceX quickly churned out the next prototype: SN4. It was again noticeably smoother than the previous prototypes and reused the lower part of SN3’s undamaged skirt section. On April 26, 2020, SN4 passed cryogenic testing, becoming the first full-sized Starship prototype to do so. It reached a pressure of 4.9 bar, which Elon Musk said was “a softball tbh, but that’s enough to fly!” A Raptor engine was installed the next day, and SN4 static fired for the first time on May 5, then again only a day later on May 6. The first static fire fed fuel from the main tanks while the second one fed fuel from the main oxygen tank and the smaller methane header tank. Following the two successful static fires, the Raptor engine was uninstalled.
Starship SN9 – SN9
SN9 will perform a 12.5 km test flight – the second high altitude flight of a Starship prototype. The flight will be very similar to SN8’s. SpaceX will pressurize SN9’s header tanks with helium for this flight, which should prevent them from losing pressure like the methane header tank did during SN8’s flight.
Starship SN9 – SN9 tipped over in the high bay the day after SN8’s flight, causing a delay to its planned rollout while SpaceX inspected and replaced damaged parts – namely, one of the forward body flaps that was crushed between the vehicle and the wall of the high bay. Starship SN9 finally rolled out just before Christmas, with two of its three engines already installed – its third engine was installed at the launch site.
SN9 conducted two cryo tests, followed by a static fire. Several days later, SN9 conducted three static fire tests on the same day. Two of the engines were damaged following the trifecta of static fires. They were swapped out and SN9 successfully static fired for a fifth time.
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