Late Sunday night, SpaceX completed a critical cryogenic test of a Starship prototype at its launch site in South Texas. The successful test, charging cooled nitrogen into pressurized fuel tanks, was: reported on Twitter by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
The vehicle, named SN4 – which stands for serial number 4 – was pressurized to 4.9 bar, or 4.9 times the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface. This pressure isn’t as high as Starship’s fuel tanks and plumbing system are designed to withstand, but it’s enough for basic flight.
This marks an important moment in the Starship program. Since November 2019, the company has lost three full-scale Starship prototypes during cryogenic and pressure testing. The most recent outage occurred on April 3. This is the first time a vehicle has survived the pressure test in order to continue working. Such tests are intended to ensure the integrity of a missile’s fuel system before firing an engine.
SN4 passed cryo proof! pic.twitter.com/EJakThZRGF
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020
Now, Musk said, SpaceX engineers will attach a single Raptor engine to this vehicle and conduct a static fire test. The company hopes to be able to continue with this test later this week.
Should the static fire test be successful, Musk has said the SN4 vehicle will “hop” test 150 meters, much like the “Starhopper” prototype did in August 2019. The company has not yet received regulatory approval for this test, so it may not happen for several weeks.
SpaceX has already fabricated most of the parts for its SN5 vehicle, which may be the first prototype to attempt higher flight. Musk said that if all goes well with SN4, the plan is to pair three Raptors with SN5 for a higher flight test later this spring.
Starship is the “top stage” of a two-piece, fully reusable launch system that SpaceX is developing. The company’s goal is for the “Super Heavy” rocket to launch Starship into orbit, where this vehicle can either carry cargo to a specified destination or carry dozens of passengers.
At its Boca Chica site, the company has taken the build-test-fly-iterate process and put it on steroids. In a matter of months, SpaceX built what is essentially a rocket factory in tents in the dusty undergrowth along the Texas-Mexico border, close to the Rio Grande River. While the program has seen several failures to date, the ability of engineers to learn from their mistakes and produce new prototypes in a month or less seems to allow Musk and its coveted Starship program to get closer and closer to the stars. come.