Starship SN8: SpaceX prototype is the new highlight from Elon Musk

VA good 50 years ago, space pioneer Wernher von Braun stood in front of America’s giant rocket Saturn V and was celebrated as the pioneer of the moon landing. Now it is again about a new era in space travel. This time, however, no German engineer is in the spotlight. Only a large crawler crane built by Liebherr in Germany provides assistance.

The setting is not the famous Cape Canaveral spaceport in Florida, but a newly built launch site in Boca Chica, a sparsely populated region in Texas on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The unique Starship SN8 rocket should take off there on Monday and land vertically on six legs.

In the past few weeks, the German crane, respectfully dubbed “Tankzilla” by observers, helped to balance the tip of the rocket. After all, this component is an approximately 50 meter high prototype.

Starship is the culmination of Musk’s rocket fantasies

But it is only the upper stage of a unique rocket. Together with the starting step, the 120 meter high device would weigh 5000 tons. It should carry up to 150 tons or up to 100 astronauts into space.

The father of the mega-construction is the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk. For him, Starship is the culmination of his rocket fantasies. He has changed the design, the drive and the construction around a dozen times since 2012. He changed the name of his mega-missile, once known as the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), several times.

Now the rocket, together with the Super Heavy launch stage, is to be more powerful and larger than the Saturn V moon rocket from Wernher von Braun. Above all, the Starship upper school should be given a wide, unique range of tasks.

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The Starship rocket is said to contribute to the long-term survival of mankind with flights to the moon and Mars if the earth becomes uninhabitable. Another variant would be hypersonic flights between metropolises on earth, faster than once with the Concorde.

Even the US military is interested in super-fast freight transport via Starship. Whether manned or unmanned for cargo flights or as a gas station in space, the range of Starship applications would be diverse.

But first the technology has to be tested. Step by step, Musk is feeling his way forward with the development teams of his space company SpaceX. There have already been a few test flights with smaller prototypes, such as flights from “Starhopper” in 2019.

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But there were also several test failures and explosions. Musk was therefore unable to meet his ambitious schedule. Commercial Starship missions were planned for 2021. That should no longer be achievable.

Unmanned lunar flights are on the program for 2022. The Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa wants to be the first space tourist to fly to the moon with a group of artists in 2023. Experts also consider this date to be extremely ambitious. In any case, a lot has to be tested beforehand.

This week, the Starship SN8 Raptor engines developed by Musk could ignite for a few seconds. The first flight may take place immediately afterwards at an altitude of 15 kilometers. The airspace above the take-off area will be closed to aircraft this Monday for safety’s sake.

Never before has a rocket had hinged wings

Musk admits the flight could fail. It is part of the 49-year-old entrepreneur’s philosophy to push the development of his rockets to the limit of what is feasible through tests. The next prototypes are already being assembled on the rocket site. The German crane “Tankzilla” is still busy with the assembly.

The extraordinary thing about the Starship rocket is evident at first glance. The outer skin consists of a shiny silver stainless steel alloy. There are also four fins on the hull for steering in the atmosphere. The tail units can be folded in. A rocket has never had hinged wings. But there has never been any intention that a rocket should be completely reusable.

Musk not only wants to bring back the starting level Super Heavy from space to Earth in Starship missions. He’s already doing this in series with his Falcon missiles. With Starship, the upper school should also land safely on earth again after flights around the earth or to the moon or Mars.

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A technically extremely demanding and never tried aerial acrobatics maneuver with the interaction of engine thrust and landing flaps. This is now to be tried for the first time with the prototype SN8 from a height of 15 kilometers.

Musk and his engineers need to learn how Starship behaves in flight. After all, one day a vertical landing in the thin Martian atmosphere and on the moon should succeed.

Musk, who is also at the head of the electric car manufacturer Tesla, is considered to be the pacemaker of the global space industry. No other company sends more rockets into space on a regular basis. There have already been 19 starts this year. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, not only developed the first recycling rockets.

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It was one of the most delicate maneuvers of the “Osiris Rex” mission: touching the asteroid Bennu and sucking up rock samples – and NASA succeeded. The next few days will show whether enough material has been collected.

The company covers the entire range: its own rockets, extremely powerful engines (Merlin, Raptor) developed in-house, its own satellites, and its own launch sites. The recycling idea also works.

For example, rockets have been in space five times, have returned, and are being used again. So Musk can calculate cheaper for satellite launches and brings in government contracts with billions in budgets.

Analysts at the US financial group Morgan Stanley recently assessed the enterprise value of the previously unlisted SpaceX group at over 100 billion dollars in the long term. One of the pillars in the future is to be business with Internet services from space. Musk wants to launch thousands of Starlink satellites, which astronomers and experts worried about space debris.

SpaceX prototype successfully tested

The US space company SpaceX has successfully tested a prototype of the Starship. The SN-5 rose to a height of 150 meters and then landed unscathed. See the test flight here in the video.

While SpaceX is rushing from one record to the next and is planning a flight with four astronauts to the “International Space Station” (ISS) in mid-November, the Europeans have to watch, paralyzed, what is happening in the USA. Europe does not have nearly as many state start-up orders or a huge budget as NASA, but it also lacks the courage to come up with radically new technical solutions.

Europe’s space agency Esa just had to admit that the premiere flight of the new Ariane 6 has been delayed further and that costs will rise again. Instead of July 2020 as planned, the second half of 2022 is now given as the start date.

Even the 3.8 billion euros in tax money alone for the development of the rocket without the new launch site in French Guiana is not enough. In any case, Europe’s politicians are worth investing billions in for independent access to space, while the technological leaps in space travel are shown above all by SpaceX. Little consolation: A crane built in Germany helps.

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