The world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft company, SpaceX, reached yet another important milestone in their goal to conquer the universe, with the launch of its latest Starship prototype, SN8 (SN – serial number). The aforementioned rocket, the eighth in the series of SpaceX’s prototypes named Starship, and the first to have a nose cone and stabilizing body flaps, took off at 5:45 pm EST (2245 GMT) on December 9th from the site in Boca Chica, Texas. The epic explosion on its return did nothing to daunt Elon Musk’s spirits, who later that day tweeted: “Mars, here we come!”
By performing complex aerial manoeuvres like flying parallel with the ground and rising to an altitude of 12.5 km – compared to its SNS predecessors which only reached 150 m -, as well as providing important information regarding RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), the SN8 Starship flight was considered to be a huge success. Mr. Musk had initially put the odds of SN8 at three to one. He said in another tweet: “Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” The intended mission of this aircraft is to carry goods and people into orbits close to Earth at a capacity of 100 tones.
One confusing thing when it comes to the name of Starship is that both, the entire rocket, and the upper part are called the same. The system consists of two stages. The first stage is called Super Heavy and this is the booster of the entire Starship system. As a first stage vehicle, Super Heavy is intended to have 37 engines called Raptors – the most ambitious rocket engine ever made. This will give it double the power used by Saturn V, the US rocket used in their crewed missions to the Moon.
The second stage, SN8 is expected to house six Raptors in its final design, however for this flight only half were used. In comparison, Falcon 9, uses nine Merlin 1D engines on the first stage and a single optimized Merlin engine called V-Mac on the second stage. Its SNS predecessors have used one of SpaceX’s Raptor engines; not all were launched, with some only used for ground tests. The previous altitude record of 150 m was achieved by the stubby Starhopper, SN5 and SN6. SN8, a 50-meters-tall stainless-steel spacecraft is much more complex, separating itself from the previous atmosphere-penetrating shape of space rockets.
During the mission, every part except the capsule with the crew was thrown away. A Starship is expected to be fully recyclable with both stages returning to Earth. Mr Musk estimates the costs will be a few million dollars instead of 1bn, as well as cheaper to build. The estimated time for when an entire Starship will fly is still an unknown, however Mr. Musk said he is confident the first crewed Mars mission will launch by 2026. SpaceX is building multiple Starship prototypes and the SN9 rocket is expected to launch soon.