To celebrate their greatest achievement yet with Starship SpaceX has released a Video Digest From SN8 high-altitude flight. This was a 12.5 km jump test performed December 9, 2020, Which saw the SN8 prototype climb to an altitude of 12.5 km (7.8 mi), perform a “belly-swings” maneuver, and return to the launch pad. Although it did not fully commit to landing, the test was a milestone in developing the Starship.
The flight test came after numerous static firing tests using earlier prototypes (SN1 to SN5), and a series of 150-meter (nearly 500-foot) jump tests using the SN5 and SN6. On October 20, 2020, another successful static shooting test was carried out with the eighth prototype (SN8) using three Raptor engines. After validation of engines and design, the company prepared for its first high-altitude test in December.
The two-minute twenty-second video captures test highlights by combining footage from the many different cameras that were recording that day. This included a series of outdoor cameras (including a drone camera tracking SN8 along the way) cameras inside the engine compartment, one on the landing pad, and cameras mounted on the fuselage.
It begins by showing engine ignition and ascent, as all three Ratpor engines produce an orange and blue series of flames – the result of the combustion of liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX) fuel. This is followed by an engine cutoff, as the three Raptor engines (one by one) separate as the SN8 approaches its 12.5 km peak.
In slow motion, we see the SN8 turning over to its side and watching its fins adapt to its “flop-up” maneuver. The aim of this part of the test was to verify the aerodynamic surfaces of the prototype, which was the Starship It will rely on maneuvering and de-velocity during atmospheric reentry. Proportions are captured from multiple angles using the drone camera and fuselage camera.
Then comes the “rollover maneuver,” in which two Raptors ignite and hold the tail for landing. This is shown from both sides (the drone camera) and the ground. The engines they ignite for a landing burn, but fail to slow the SN8 enough for a smooth landing. Unscheduled Rapid Touch and Unscramble (RUD) – aka. Explosion – consequence.
This was due to a fuel line pressure problem, which ground crews quickly identified after the test was complete. Shortly thereafter, Mask took over Twitter To share what they have learned:
“The fuel head tank pressure was low during the descent combustion, which caused the descent speed to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congratulations SpaceX Team Hell Yes !!”
Despite the fiery finish, all major systems and surfaces involved have been validated. These included ascent, switching from the tail to vertical fuel tanks (once the SN8 reached its zenith), and precise flap maneuvering that allowed for controlled descent. In the meantime, the crew had all the data they needed about the problem that prevented the gentle landing and will use it to inform the next round of tests.
The video then ends with a caption reiterating the successes of the first ever high-altitude flight test:
“SN8 demonstrated the first of its kind controlled antenna ramp and downward maneuver. Together, these factors would enable landings where there are no paths including the moon, the mars and beyond.
Speaking of that, all indications are Musk planning to take a jump test with SN9 and others in the coming weeks. These include Notices for pilots (NOTAMs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the airspace around Brownsville, Texas Notifications of road closures Released to Cameron Country about the Boca Chica test scene.
It has since been extended, with new NOTAMs being released next Wednesday and Thursday (Jan 13 and 14) from 08:00 AM to 06:00 PM local time (CST) – or 06:00 AM to 04:00 PM PDT. ; 09:00 AM to 07:00 PM EST. The closure of new roads similar to Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach in the Cameron County area was announced Monday through Wednesday (Jan 11 to Jan 13).
SN9 has since been rolled out onto the landing pad and performed its first static firing test earlier this week (Wednesday Jan 6). Unfortunately, the test was canceled after a very short launch and it is likely that another test will happen this next week before any leap tests are attempted. Meanwhile, the SN10 has been stacked and merged within High Bay and will be ready to trade once SN9 is in its paces.
SN11 and SN12 are also assembled inside the facility’s Mid Bay, with SN11 nearly finished and only nosecone needed. Musk also hinted that he and his crew at the Boca Chica facility would test SN9 and SN10 (and subsequent prototypes) simultaneously. This was in response to A. Tweet by RGV Aerial Photography (RGVaerialphotos), Which flies weekly to take pictures of the Boca Chica facility.
Photo in Tweet shows SN9 on the landing board, with a previous image of SN8 added (using Photoshop) on the adjacent panel. The photo captioned a question to Musk: “With SN10 nearly complete and repairs made to the landing pad, do you think that’s something we’ll see in the next few weeks?” To this, Musk tweeted in response to “Yeah. “
2021 will be an exciting time for SpaceX, the commercial space, and space exploration in general! While the year has already seen its share of bad news, it appears that there are some dangerous bright lights on the horizon!