SpaceX Starship nears launch date after successful test of Mars-bound deep space SN20 engine, Elon Musk says

Largest rocket ever built will fly from Texas to Hawaii in November

Anthony Cuthbertson
Monday 25 October 2021 15:33
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<p>Starship SN20 will launch from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas</p>

Starship SN20 will launch from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas

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SpaceX will launch its next-generation Starship SN20 rocket next month after successfully testing its deep space Raptor Vacuum engine, Elon Musk has confirmed.

The launch will be the first orbital flight for the Mars-bound craft, which is being built to transport people and cargo around the Solar System.

Previous Starship prototypes have performed high-altitude flight tests from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, but the next stage of development requires a massive Super Heavy rocket in order to propel it to orbit.

The November test will see Starship SN20 launch from Starbase before separating from the booster rocket and touching down 90 minutes later off the coast of Hawaii.

SpaceX will attempt to catch the Super Heavy rocket using “robot chopsticks” attached to the launch tower – named ‘Mechazilla’ by Mr Musk – that will guide it back down onto the pad.

“If all goes well, Starship will be ready for its first orbital launch attempt next month, pending regulatory approval,” Mr Musk announced on Friday.

Orbital flights require a launch license from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with the authority previously proving a hindrance to launches of previous Starship prototypes.

The Raptor Vacuum engines are a variation of the Raptor engines used in previous tests, featuring a much larger nozzle compared to their seal-level counterparts.

They will provide thrust for Starship’s upper stage when there is negligible atmospheric pressure.

SpaceX shared a video on Sunday showing the latest progress of its Starship craft, titled ‘Gateway to Mars’. It included clips of the main Starship craft being attached to the Super Heavy booster rocket, measuring 120m (400ft) when connected together.

The two rocket stages are capable of delivering roughly 100,000kg to low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX’s calculations, while producing around 70 meganewtons of thrust off the pad – approximately double that of the famous Saturn V rockets used to launch humans to the Moon during Nasa’s Apollo missions.

SpaceX signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Nasa earlier this year to build Starship rockets for the US space agency’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon in 2024.

Eventually, the craft could carry up to 100 people on missions to Mars and beyond, with SpaceX planning to build up to 100 new Starship rockets every year.

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