Elon Musk discusses future of SpaceX's Starship system
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The eagerly anticipated test flight of the Starship Serial Number 11 or SN11 came to a head on Tuesday afternoon after multiple delays. SpaceX fans worldwide were hoping SN11 would be the first prototype to land in one piece but the rocket crashed into the Boca Chica launch pad in South Texas, just minutes after taking off into the skies. The prototype rocket experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” or RUD shortly after it engaged its Raptor engines for a soft landing attempt.
SN11 joined the ranks of Starship SN8, SN9 and SN10 – all of which were blown up at Boca Chica.
And with the rocket now completely out of the picture, SpaceX fans are expecting its SN12 brother to be rolled out onto the launch pad.
But this is not the case, as SpaceX will go straight to the Starship SN15 for its next launch.
Shortly after the SN11 was crashed, Mr Musk told his Twitter followers SN15 would make its launch pad debut in a matter of days.
The SpaceX chief tweeted: “SN15 rolls to launch pad in a few days.
“It has hundreds of design improvements across structures, avionics/software and engine.
“Hopefully, one of those improvements covers this problem. If not, then retrofit will add a few more days.”
The “problem” in this case, is the “significant something” that caused the SN11 to fail its soft landing attempt.
Why is SN15 the next Starship to launch and not SN12?
Starship’s development has been confusing even to the biggest of SpaceX’s fans.
Not only has the spacecraft gone through numerous design changes, but the two-stage rocket also began life in 2012 as the Mars Colonial Transporter.
The most recent Starship prototypes are all being assembled at the company’s Boca Chica base.
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Test flights began with scaled-down models resembling water tanks that fans have affectionately dubbed the Starhopper.
These prototypes flew no higher than 490ft (150m) and were built as a low-altitude test vehicle.
The first full-size models of the Starship were the Mk1, Mk2, Mk3 and Mk4, which introduced some tweaks to the rocket’s overall design.
Starship Mk3 would later be renamed the Starship Serial Number 1 or SN1.
Starship’s testing continued with the SN3 and SN4 models, which resembled stainless-steel silos.
The rockets did not feature a nosecone or side fins, and both were destroyed during failed engine tests on the launch pad.
Starship SN5 was up next and the rocket launched on a 490ft (150m) test flight that was a success.
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SN5 was followed by another successful test flight of the Starship SN6 and both were scrapped in January and February this year, respectively.
Starship SN7 was the next prototype that exploded during a pressurisation test in June 2020.
A scaled-down Starship SN7.2 tank, however, was used for pressure tests.
A full-scale SN8 with nosecone and fins then launched in December of that year but failed to land.
SN8 was followed by the SN9 in February, the SN10 in March and then the SN11 on March 30, 2021.
In January this year it was rumoured SpaceX would skip over the SN12 model after eagle-eyed fans spotted the SN15 being assembled at Boca Chica.
The jump meant SpaceX would be scrapping three iterations – SN12, SN13 and SN14 – after launching the SN11.
Mr Musk confirmed this plan after SN11’s crash landing when he said SN15 would be the next rocket to launch.
SN12 was never assembled as SpaceX expects the SN15 to mark a significant technological leap on its predecessors.
In essence, the missing three rockets were scrapped to make way for better and more robust designs.
Individual segments of the Starship SN16, SN17 and SN18 are also in the works.
However, Mr Musk teased the Starship SN20 will mark the next big Starship upgrade.
He tweeted: “Next major technology rev is at SN20. Those ships will be orbit-capable with heat shield and stage separation system. Ascent success probability is high.
“However, SN20+ vehicles will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating and land intact.”
Follow Express.co.uk to find out when the Starship SN15 launches.
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