- SpaceX's Starship prototype, SN4, passed a key cryogenic proof test late Sunday evening and will undergo more critical tests this week.
- Three previous full-scale Starship vehicles, MK1, SN1 and SN3, had failed the test.
- SpaceX has a static fire test with a Raptor engine on the docket for later this week, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
Amidst snow flurries, SpaceX's Starship prototype, SN4, passed a key hurdle on its slow-going journey to Mars last night. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the tank had aced its cryogenic proof test—a feat that has eluded previous full-scale prototypes.
Cryogenic proof tests, which simulate forces generated during launch, are a key indicator of a vehicle's readiness. In this test, the fuel tanks were filled with liquid nitrogen and then pressurized to levels seen during flight. In the case of SN4, it reached 4.9 bar, or 4.9 times the atmospheric pressure at seen at Earth's surface. Musk admitted in a tweet that the test was "Kind of a softball tbh, but that’s enough to fly!"
We love to see it.
Last November, another one of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes, MK1, failed its pressure test and burst apart at the company's Boca Chica, Texas, facility. The SN1 prototype also failed a cryogenic test in late February.
SN2, on the other hand, passed its cryo test on March 8, but the vehicle was only partially assembled. The fourth prototype to undergo this type of test, SN3, crumpled on the launch pad in April, but not because it couldn't handle the pressure. At the time, Musk blamed a "test configuration mistake," which led to one of the vehicle's tanks buckling under the weight of another.
But over the weekend, SN4 passed the ambient pressure test, where the tanks are filled with gaseous nitrogen at ambient temperature. Later this week, SpaceX will conduct a static fire test on SN4 with its Raptor rocket, followed by a 150-foot "hop test" once the company gets regulatory approval, Musk tweeted. (Starhopper, SpaceX's pudgy Starship rocket prototype, aced a similar test in August.)
All of the parts for Starship's SN5 prototype have been fabricated, and SpaceX engineers plan to attach three Raptor rockets to the vehicle for a more robust suite of tests.
Musk has big plans for Starship, which can carry a hell of a lot more than you might think—up to 150 tons into low Earth orbit and 21 tons into higher altitude orbits. While the Starship program has suffered numerous failures, SpaceX has been able to learn from these shortcomings and churn out improved prototypes at breakneck speeds, pushing the company steps closer to developing a Mars-ready spacecraft in the coming years.
It's been a busy spring for SpaceX. The company is also preparing to launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 27. The launch will mark SpaceX's first crewed launch and the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle era that American astronauts are sent to the ISS aboard an American-made spacecraft.
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