SpaceX is gearing up for a major milestone: the first orbital-speed launch of its combined Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage.
THE Spatialship The deep-space rocket system is set to launch from SpaceX’s Starbase facility near Boca Chica, Texas, Monday (April 17) during a 150-minute window that opens at 8:00 a.m. EDT (12:00 GMT).
The gigantic, 394-foot-tall (120-meter) double-decker Starship was Stacked on the orbital launch pad at Starbase April 5, ready for pre-launch testing.
Related: SpaceX’s spacecraft looks amazing stacked for launch in these photos
Starship consists of a huge first-stage booster, called Super Heavy, and an upper-stage spacecraft called Starship. The test flight will notably use the Ship 24 and Booster 7 prototypes.
Starship and its test flights are among the most exciting developments in the space sector, and the first orbital mission is long overdue. The test launch will, however, be one more step on the long road that will lead the launcher to become fully operational.
When launched, the entire flight will take approximately 90 minutes, beginning at Starbase, flying east over the Gulf of Mexico and across the Florida Straits, and ending near Hawaii.
Super Heavy and Starship are both designed to be fully reusable, but this will be the only flight for Booster 7 and Ship 24; both vehicles will splash down in the ocean rather than making vertical, powered landings on dry land or a “drone”, like SpaceX’s early stages Falcon 9 And Heavy Falcon rockets commonly do this.
Booster 7’s 33 Raptor liquid methane-oxygen engines are expected to shut down 169 seconds into flight and separate from the ship 24 three seconds later, according to Description of SpaceX’s mission (opens in a new tab). Booster 7 will restart a few of its engines to steer it back toward Texas, eventually splashing down about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico about eight minutes after launch.
The six Raptor engines on the Starship’s upper stage, meanwhile, will start after 177 seconds, or just under three minutes of flight time, continuing the vehicle’s eastward journey. These motors will burn for approximately 6.5 minutes, stopping 560 seconds into flight.
Ship 24 will not complete a full orbit of Earth, but it will reach what is known as orbital velocity – for low Earth orbit, approximately 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h) – at an altitude of ‘about 150 miles, if all goes as planned.
Starship will then undergo a high-speed test re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. If all goes well, it will crash about 100 km off the northwest coast of Kauai, which is part of the Hawaiian archipelago.
This splashdown is scheduled 90 minutes after takeoff from Boca Chica. The test flight aims to provide a lot of valuable information to SpaceX as it seeks to get Starship fully operational.
“SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify input dynamics and better understand what the vehicle is experiencing in a flight regime that is extremely difficult to accurately predict or computationally reproduce,” according to A document (opens in a new tab) about the test flight that SpaceX submitted to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2021.
“This data will anchor any changes in vehicle design or CONOPs [concept of operations] after the first flight and build better models that we can use in our internal simulations.”
In another FCC filing 2021 (opens in a new tab)SpaceX says Starship booster and spacecraft will sport Stellar Link satellite terminals to demonstrate high-speed communications during in-flight operations.
“SpaceX’s constellation of satellites can deliver unprecedented telemetry volumes and enable communications during atmospheric entry when ionized plasma around the spacecraft inhibits conventional telemetry frequencies. These tests will demonstrate its ability to improve efficiency and safety of future orbital spaceflight missions,” the filing said.
SpaceX has produced many prototypes of its Starship elements, with improvements to its structures, systems and software being considered and implemented after each test or flight. Some of its main steps were instantly followed by explosive conclusions.
This first flight at orbital speed is the most difficult and important step to date, and it will provide a number of lessons, regardless of the outcome.
SpaceX’s long-term vision is to have Starship ferrying crew and cargo to the moon and Marchits reusability also considerably reducing the launch cost.
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