News and Updates

SpaceX’s Starship Takes Its First Breath

CREDIT: BocaChicaGal — Starship SN4 Performs an Engine Preburner Test

MAY 5, 2020–Things have gotten exciting in the small Texas village of Boca Chica these past few days as a full-scale Starship comes to life for the first time.

The massive fully-reusable Starship rocket, which SpaceX aims to utilize for their future Mars missions, first began development in 2018 when SpaceX constructed a sub-scale “hopper” test article just a few miles away from their planned Falcon launch complex in South Texas. The complex was since converted to a full-time Starship testing facility.

The Starship test article, nicknamed Starhopper, performed several static fires and short flight tests in the summer of 2019. Once Starhopper finished its testing campaign, the next logical step for SpaceX was to construct a full-scale Starship orbiter that performs similar tests to verify the descent and landing systems. As SpaceX then learned, doing this was easier said than done.

CREDIT: Tim Dodd — “Starhopper” Performs a Short Flight Test in June 2019

SpaceX constructed a total of 4 different full-scale Starship test articles in Boca Chica. The first three failed in succession as SpaceX attempted to load cryogenic fluids into the propellant tanks. The fourth, Serial Number 4 (SN4), was tested on April 23, 2020. While many didn’t expect it to survive the now-infamous cryogenic propellant tests, as night fell, and the roads closed down, SpaceX began their attempt at “cryo-proofing” Starship SN4. At 11:44 PM local time on April 26th, Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that SN4 successfully passed the test.

A couple of days later, one of SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engines was installed on the aft of SN4, making it the first full-scale Starship prototype to receive an engine. This would also be the first time a Raptor was installed since Starhopper.

The final milestone before flight is a static fire in which the engines are tested on the ground. The static fire test is now scheduled for tonight, May 5th, and the Starship team in Boca Chica is working around the clock to prepare Starship. These preparations included several tests that were performed over the last three days.

CREDIT: Elon Musk — Starship SN4 Sitting on the Pad With a Newly Installed Engine

On May 2nd, SpaceX attempted to complete a spin-up test of the Raptor engine turbopumps while the vehicle was fully fueled. However, this test was delayed, as the first attempt performed sub-optimally with Musk citing concerns of liquid methane getting too hot for the engines to handle. The test was recycled and was completed later in the night.

Finally, SpaceX completed two engine pre-burner tests last night. This will presumably be the last engine test to be completed before SpaceX attempts a full static fire later tonight.

Once the static fire is complete, SpaceX’s next goal is a 150-meter hop.

Article by Matt M.
Edited by Lavie Ohana.

Matt M.

Matt M. is a social media manager and contributor at Space Scout. He runs the Space Scout TikTok and occasionally writes articles about a variety of spaceflight topics, although he currently specializes in covering SpaceX's Starship test program in South Texas. Outside of his work at SpaceScout, Matt works on his career as a highschool-level engineering student. He is on the design group for his local F.R.C Team, volunteers as a Civil Air Patrol cadet, and is slated to join a local engineering internship program in early 2021.

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