Elon Musk has announced plans for the next test phase of the SpaceX spacecraft, which may be ready in just a week.
A new Starship prototype, the SN8, arouses particular interest among space fans due to its external shape. Unlike previous prototypes, which were essentially steel cylinders, the SN8 will have body flaps and a nose cone, meaning it will be recognizably similar to the eye-catching Starship design that Musk unveiled around the time last year.
Musk also shared on Twitter that the company is planning a test hop flight of up to 18,000 meters (60,000 feet), which is considerably higher than previous prototypes that did hops of a few hundred meters.
The SN8 spacecraft with flaps and nose cone should be ready in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire fly to 60,000 feet and back.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2020
SpaceX worked its way through a number of Starship prototypes during development. Quite a few were destroyed in testing, often with dramatic results. Now the company needs to test two working prototypes: SN5 and SN6. The SN5 did its hop test in early August and the SN6 did a hope test in early September. With two working prototypes, the company has more testing capabilities and doesn't have to wait to build a new one should one be destroyed.
There will be some similarities in the testing processes between these earlier prototypes and the new SN8. In the static fire test, for example, the rocket is brought to the launch pad and filled with fuel like in a real launch. However, the rocket remains held on the ground by a mount. If the engine fires, the missile won't move. This allows engineers to check issues such as fuel flow and the temperatures and pressures in the system.
However, a notable difference between these earlier prototypes and the planned tests for the SN8 is the altitude reached in flight. In the hop tests carried out with the SN5 and SN6, the vehicle rose a few hundred meters into the air before returning to earth. The SN8, on the other hand, will perform a much more demanding test, according to Musk, climbing up to 60,000 feet.
We will keep you updated on the testing progress of the SN8 which hopefully will start testing soon.