Two previous ground tests for Elon Musk’s giant Starship prototype ended in catastrophic failure. It was third-time lucky late on March 8th when the test seems to have worked.
The lateness of the test also helps explain Musk’s apparent tiredness at his March 9th at the Satellite 2020 show in Washington, where in the words of one attendee Musk appeared to have been up all night. The answer is that he probably was up most of the night either overseeing the tests or travelling from south-East Texas to Washington DC.
The crucial cryogenic pressure tests are vital to prove the core engineering in the giant rocket’s container tanks. Two earlier tests ruptured the container on the rocket, which is ultimately intended to be wholly reusable.
Musk told delegates at the Satellite 2020 show that the industry needed a whole new architecture which included reusable rockets – and produced at a low price. He says that his Starship rockets should be able to land like an aircraft and be re-fuelled within an hour with minimum maintenance and be capable of launching three times per day.
Musk had earlier tweeted (on March 2nd) “We’re stripping SN2 to bare minimum to test the thrust puck to dome weld under pressure, first with water, then at cryo. Hopefully ready to test in a few days.”
This latest prototype was SN2 and Musk tweeted on March 9th that the next prototype, SN3, would have a static-firing test and a short flight, measured in yards not miles, and a longer flight test with the follow-on prototype SN4. “Spooling up the whole Starship/Raptor production line is really what matters,” he tweeted.
Musk’s plan is to rapidly solve what problems emerge with further iterations of the rocket and at the same time evolve improved and speedy construction patterns so that by the end of this year his SpaceX technicians can be building one Starship per week. He has said that he hopes a Starship wojld be orbital flight with the 4th or 5th prototype.