The race to build and test prototypes of NASA’s Human Landing System, which astronauts can use to land on the lunar surface, has increased. At the beginning of this year, three companies were commissioned with orders for the vehicle. Two of the three have provided details about their models for the system. The third, SpaceX, is currently testing prototypes at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas. These prototypes are part of the company’s upper tier of the Starship launch vehicle platform, which is intended to completely replace the existing Falcon launch vehicle range.
SpaceX Starship’s upcoming hop will be the first to integrate important structural elements
So far, SpaceX has made two non-prototypical jumps of its Starship upper-tier spacecraft. The “vehicle” in these tests consists mainly of its fuel tanks and a single Raptor engine. This configuration differs significantly from the vehicle’s final design, which uses six Raptor engines, has flaps for directional control, and has a bow cone at the top. The nosecone will serve mission-specific purposes, with SpaceX intending to use it for both crewed and unmanned missions.
On that front, the company’s managing director and chief engineer, Elon Musk, revealed key details for the spacecraft’s SN8 prototype. Contrary to what the name suggests, this isn’t the eighth test item SpaceX has created, as the company changed its nomenclature for the prototypes late last year.
The SN8 test vehicle will have both the nose cone and the flaps, Musk said. More importantly, it will also be the first Starship prototype to use three engines for testing. In addition, if SpaceX’s plans follow course, SN8 will make the highest jump in the spacecraft’s height to date.
However, instead of the 12 miles (63,000 feet) elevation that the company highlighted in an FCC filing, the upcoming test will be aimed at 9 miles (50,000 feet). In addition, the front flaps of the vehicle are powered by electric motors rather than a hydraulic system, thereby meeting another important design goal. This also removes some of the hazardous chemicals that are required for hydraulics.
The SN8 starship will initially fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet, which is lower than previous estimates
NASA has approved SpaceX’s plans to use Starship as a human lunar lander prior to the aforementioned contract award. Musk has also expressed confidence in the company’s ability to build the vehicle for the space agency. At the Human on Mars 2020 Summit earlier this month, the executive stated:
“We know how to make a complex life support system that can handle a wide variety of environments. They know that atmospheric pressure and the percentage of oxygen / nitrogen in the air change in terms of filtering out CO2 and other things who breathe people, “explained Musk. “For a longer mission like Mars, you want a more renewable system than what we have at Crew Dragon [SpaceX’s spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station]They want to recycle things, you know, water recycle a lot more, oxygen a lot more. But yes, go to the moon, no problem. “
The lower altitude marks the first step of a new hop set that tests endurance at high altitude and speed. In addition, Musk announced that it will allow SpaceX to test the vehicle’s newly added body doors and fuel systems.
In addition to Starship, the national team (consisting of four companies) and Dynetics Inc are the companies selected by NASA for the lunar lander. The national team, which consists of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Laboratory, has delivered its prototype to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas. Dynetics announced details for its HLS prototype earlier this month. The company announced how it is testing vehicle crew compatibility with the help of astronaut Colonel Lee Archambault. Archambault has spent 26 days in space and has flown on two space shuttle missions, one of which (STS-119) he commanded in 2009.
If the hop is successful, SpaceX has completed an important test step for the HLS program. However, key parameters such as the vehicle landing on the lunar surface, propulsion and fueling systems must be validated by NASA before the vehicle is certified for missions. SpaceX has promised NASA to test the upper tier of the spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy in 2022. The tests will determine the agency’s confidence in the spaceship.