To celebrate their greatest achievement to date with Star ship, SpaceX released a summary video of the flight at an altitude of SN8. This was the 12.5 km jump test conducted on December 9, 2020, in which the SN8 prototype climbed to a height of 12.5 km (7.8 miles), performed a belly-flop maneuver and returned to the starting landing. Although it did not completely delay the landing, the test was a major stage in the development of Star ship.
The flight test came after a number of static fire tests were conducted with previous prototypes (SN1 to SN5) and a series of 150 meters (~ 500 feet) hop tests with SN5 and SN6. On October 20, 2020, another successful static fire test was conducted with the eighth prototype (SN8) using three Raptor engines. With validated engines and design, the company is preparing to conduct its first high-altitude test in December.
The two-minute-twenty-second video captures the highlights of the test by combining footage from the many different cameras that recorded that day. This included a series of external cams (including a drone that follows the SN8 all the way), cams in the engine compartment, one on the landing pad, and cams mounted in the fuselage.
It begins with a display of engine ignition and ascent, with all three Ratpor engines producing a trail of orange-blue flames – the result of the combustion of its liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX). This was followed by an engine shutdown, with the three Raptor engines shutting down (one at a time) as the SN8 approached its 12.5km peak.
Then, in a slow motion, we see the SN8 turn sideways and watch its fins adjust for a belly-flop maneuver. This part of the test was intended to confirm the aerodynamic surfaces of the prototype, which Star ship will rely on control and shedding speed while making atmospheric re-entry. The descent is captured from multiple angles by means of the unmanned camera and the hump of the fuselage.
Then comes the “flip maneuver”, where two of the Raptors return and gimbal to bring the landing queue. This is shown both from the side (drone camera) and from the ground. Their engines ignite to burn the landing, but fail to slow down the SN8 enough to make a soft landing. Touch and rapid unplanned disassembly (RUD) – also known as an explosion – followed.
This is due to a problem with the pressure in the fuel line, which the ground crews quickly identified after the test. Shortly afterwards, Musk took to Twitter to share what he had learned.
“The fuel tank pressure was low during combustion on landing, which led to a high touch speed and RUD, but we got all the necessary data! Congratulations to the SpaceX team, damn it! ”
Despite the fiery end, all key systems and surfaces involved were validated. These included the ascent, the switch from the tail to the header’s fuel tanks (after the SN8 reached its apogee) and the precise control of the valve, which allowed a controlled descent. Meanwhile, the crews received all the necessary data about the problem that prevented the soft touch and will use it to inform about the next round of tests.
The video then ends with a caption that echoes the success of this first-ever high-altitude flight test:
“SN8 DEMONSTRATES THE FIRST NECESSARY CONTROLLED AERODYNAMIC HEARING AND KNEE MANEUVER. TOGETHER, THEY WILL HAVE A DROP WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS, INCLUDING THE MOON, MARS AND BEYOND.
“NEXT UP: SN9.”
Speaking of which, all indications are that Musk plans to conduct a hop test with SN9 and others in the coming weeks. These include Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the airspace around Brownsville, Texas, as well as road closure notices issued to Cameron Country around the Boca Chica test view.
They have since been extended, with new NOTAMs issued for the following Wednesday and Thursday (13 and 14 January) from 08:00 to 18:00 Local Time (CST) – or from 06:00 to 16:00 PST; From 09:00 to 19:00 EDT. Similarly, new closed roads have been announced for State Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beech in Cameron, Monday to Wednesday (January 11 to January 13).
Since then, SN9 has been launched on the landing site and conducted its first static fire test earlier this week (Wednesday, January 6). Unfortunately, the test was interrupted after a very short launch and something else could happen next week before hop attempts are made. Meanwhile, the SN10 is tidy and integrated into High Bay and will be ready for release as soon as SN9 is released in its footsteps.
The SN11 and SN12 are also assembled in the facility’s Mid Bay, with the SN11 almost complete and simply needing its nose cone. Musk also hinted that he and his crews at the Boca Chica facility would test SN9 and SN10 at the same time (and subsequent prototypes). This was in response to a tweet from RGV Aerial Photography (@RGVaerialphotos), which conducts weekly overflights to take pictures of the facility in Boca Chica.
The image in the tweet shows SN9 on the landing pad, with an earlier photo of SN8 (using Photoshop) added to the adjacent pad. The image is titled with a question about Musk: “Once the SN10 is almost complete and repairs are being made to the landing site, do you think this is something we will see in the next few weeks?” To this, Musk tweeted. “.
2021 will be an exciting time for SpaceX, commercial space and space exploration in general! Although the year has already seen its share of bad news, there seem to be some serious bright lights on the horizon!