SpaceX is set to soar over South Texas on Wednesday in the final test of a prototype of its Starship spacecraft.
A future model of the vehicle is central to the goal of Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the rocket company, to someday transport humans to Mars. NASA also recently awarded SpaceX a contract to build a version of Starship that would transport astronauts to the moon’s surface later this decade.
The test, known as SN15, is to be the fifth high-altitude flight in the Starship system. You can watch the live stream of the test on SpaceX’s YouTube channel or in the video player below:
In four previous tests, conducted since December, the rockets were launched successfully and, after reaching an altitude of several miles, demonstrated controlled flops towards the ground. But each time, problems with the landing or after the rocket landed resulted in spectacular explosions.
During the last flight, a foggy March 30, the engines re-ignited at the start of the landing procedure. But SpaceX’s live video froze for nearly six minutes after liftoff. Coverage by NASASpaceflight, a website for space enthusiasts, showed shards of metal raining around the launch site, including debris that hit one of the site’s cameras.
Mr. Musk said on Twitter after this test that there appeared to be a problem with one of the motors during the ascent, and that it was not functioning quite correctly when it re-ignited for landing.
SpaceX takes a quick and quick approach, using testing to identify design flaws and make adjustments on subsequent flights. A NASA announcement in April could draw more attention to Starship’s progress and setbacks.
A few weeks ago, NASA awarded SpaceX a $ 2.9 billion contract to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface. The contract is part of the Artemis program and NASA was to choose more than one company to build a lunar lander, mirroring the approach used by the space agency to hire companies to transport goods and now astronauts to the International Space Station. .
After the announcement, NASA’s decision was challenged by the two other companies competing for the contract: Blue Origin, the private company founded by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon; and Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA has now asked SpaceX to stop work on the lunar spacecraft until the Government Accountability Office makes a decision on the protests. The challenge does not affect SpaceX’s work on the Starship models currently being tested in Texas.
Mr. Musk’s company has been successful in the launch business and is now one of the most valuable private companies in the world. Its Falcon 9 rockets have become a dominant workhorse for sending satellites into orbit. It regularly transports goods and astronauts to the International Space Station. In the past month, he launched four astronauts to the NASA space station, then brought another crew home on Saturday in a nighttime screening.
However, many are skeptical of Mr. Musk’s claim that the company is only a few years away from sending a Starship to Mars, saying it has repeatedly set deadlines for SpaceX. which turned out to be far too optimistic.
In 2019, when he provided an update on the development of Starship, he said that a high altitude test would take place in a few months and that orbital flights could take place in early 2020.
Instead, several catastrophic failures have occurred due to a faulty solder. When the propellant tanks stopped rupturing, two of the prototypes performed successful short flights last year. These early Starship prototypes looked like spray paint cans with their tags removed, soaring nearly 500 feet using a single rocket motor before descending back down to the Texas test site.
Although it has lifted off the ground several times, Starship is far from ready for a trip to orbit. But SpaceX already has its eyes on future tests that will send subsequent Starship prototypes to much higher altitudes. In March, Mr. Musk shared a photo of a prototype of the large auxiliary stage which will be necessary for a trip in space. It stands over 200 feet tall.