SpaceX’s Starship could be a few tests away from its ultimate goal | مركز سمت للدراسات

SpaceX’s Starship could be a few tests away from its ultimate goal

Date & time : Sunday, 3 December 2023

Mark Whittington

The recent second test flight of the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy rocket was a perfect example of Elon Musk’s philosophy of technology development. Test the launch vehicle. Blow it up. Note what went wrong. Fix what went wrong. Repeat until you get something that flies as reliably as an airliner.

The approach results in a lot of spectacular explosions and angst for government regulators. But, in the end, we get a spaceship that will take humankind to the moon, Mars and beyond.

November’s test launch at the Boca Chica Starbase facility proceeded much better than the first one that happened in April. The April launch trashed the concrete launch pad, sending debris far and wide across the nearby wildlife preserve. Some of the raptor engines on the Super Heavy’s first stage either failed to ignite or cut off quickly. The Starship’s second stage failed to separate from the Super Heavy, sending the whole stack tumbling in the skies over the Gulf of Mexico until ground controllers sent a self-destruct signal to destroy it.

Months after a thorough investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service, SpaceX was ready to try again. This time, thanks to a water deluge system, the rocket left the launch pad intact. All 33 raptor engines on the Super Heavy remained lit. The Starship separated from the Super Heavy and lit its six raptor engines to head to space.

Unfortunately, the Super Heavy exploded, commanded to do so by an automatic self-destruct system. Several minutes later, ground control lost contact with the Starship because it too self-destructed. Pieces of the mighty rocket reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Caribbean.

As SpaceX engineers pour over the data from the second test and devise further fixes, the FAA has opened its own investigation as is standard practice. It is hoped, since no damage occurred on the ground, that the investigation will be speedier than the last one.

The date of the third test is still to be determined. Musk stated on X that, “Starship Flight 3 hardware should be ready to fly in 3 to 4 weeks. There are three ships in final production in the high bay (as can be seen from the highway).”

The statement suggests that SpaceX engineers have an understanding of what went wrong that caused the Super Heavy and the Starship to explode and what needs to happen to fix the problems. It all depends on what the FAA has to say. No one will be surprised if the test slips to January or even February.

NASA, which is depending on the Starship to land people on the moon as early as 2025, applauded the team’s efforts. NASA head Bill Nelson posted on X, “Congrats to the teams who made progress on today’s flight test. Spaceflight is a bold adventure demanding a can-do spirit and daring innovation. Today’s test is an opportunity to learn—then fly again. Together @NASA and @SpaceX will return humanity to the Moon, Mars & beyond.”

SpaceX has a long road ahead of it before the Starship is ready to take people back to the moon. It has to demonstrate the ability to launch both the Super Heavy and the Starship into low Earth orbit and then recover them intact. Then SpaceX has to turn the two rockets around quickly and launch them again. The company has to master on-orbit refueling if it expects to use the Starship as a lunar lander. It has to fly at least one uncrewed mission to the moon before NASA will trust the vehicle enough to put people on it.

SpaceX has to do all of these things in two years if it means to make the late 2025 deadline NASA has set for the first crewed moon landing since 1972. The first people to walk on the moon will include the first woman, the first person of color and, possibly, the first British citizen in keeping with NASA’s policy of making Artemis an international program. No one will be surprised if the next moon landing slips to 2026, which will make the 250th birthday of the United States even more special.

Besides opening up the moon to human activity, the Starship, once it is operational, will have several other roles, from launching large structures such as space stations and space telescopes, to fulfilling Elon Musk’s dream of a settlement on Mars. Thus, the true space age will have begun.

Source: The Hil


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