SpaceX’s prototype Interstellar rocket

Space Aug 17, 2020

SpaceX just built and launched a rocket made out of rolls of steel.

Not in any highly advanced factory but in tents, in the middle of nowhere, smack dab in South Texas.

And only in a couple of weeks.

Just two days after returning its first astronauts back to Earth, SpaceX successfully flew a prototype of its next-generation, deep-space rocket, sending the vehicle up to 500 feet(150 m) and then landing it back down on Earth. It’s the largest test version of the massive spaceship to see some air.

The prototype is that of SpaceX’s Starship, a spacecraft the company wants to build to transport people to deep-space worlds like the Moon and Mars. The final version of the spaceship would stand at nearly 400 feet high and 30 feet wide and be capable of sending more than 100 tons of cargo into low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX. Starship is designed to fly to space mounted on top of a giant rocket booster, known as Super Heavy, and both vehicles will be powered by SpaceX’s new powerful rocket engine, called Raptor.

This prototype is still a pale comparison of the large spacecraft that will be Starship. The prototype lacked key structural elements, including a large nose cone, flap, an interstage and many other integral parts. But the primary focus of this test, was the propulsion system.

The most challenging part of any rocket are the engine and the plumbing to reliably and rapidly feed it oxidizer and fuel. Then there are the large tanks needed to hole these liquid propellants at high pressures and ultra cold temperatures. The trick is to build these structures as light as possible, while also being sturdy enough to contain the propellants. Among the key aspects of this preliminary test was demonstrating the Starships’s stainless steel structure being able to withstand the harsh environment of a launch and landing.

This success marks a big turning point for SpaceX, which had not been having good luck with its Starship testing over the past year. Prior to this test, four of SpaceX’s previous Starship prototypes either exploded, burst, or imploded before they could actually fly. This is the first larger-scale prototype to not only take flight but to survive early testing.

This flight, often referred to as “hop,” is meant to test out controlled takeoff and landing of the vehicle. Starship is designed to do propulsive landings on other worlds, using its onboard engines to gently lower itself down to the surface of the Moon or perhaps Mars one day. It’s a technique similar to how SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rockets after flight. This short hop showed that vehicle similar in size and shape to Starship could launch and then land back down again, at least from a low altitude.

It is likely this prototype will fly again but knowing the speed at which Musk likes to take things, it is hardly surprising to note that a sixth prototype is almost done being worked on. Musk claims that this next version of Starship will be able to reach upwards of 500 km.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and Mars is still very far away.We can only wait and watch as the vessel to transport humanity to the rest of our solar system, makes steady progress.

A glimpse into the possible future.

Author : Aditya Udupa

Disclaimer : The pictures in the article are for illustration purposes only. Neither the author nor IEEE Student Branch , BITS Hyderabad has any claim over them.

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