Starbase launch site, Boca Chica, Texas — a major milestone to the road to Starship orbital flight test has been achieved by SpaceX on Thursday, Oct 21 — the SN20 (aka Ship 20) prototype completed a successful static fire test.
Although a recent NASA document revealed that the government body will monitor Starship re-entry burn with its thermal infrared cameras in March 2022, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is aiming for the first flight to happen as soon as next month.
However, SpaceX needs the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before Starship 20 can be launched to the Low Earth orbit (LEO). The FAA is currently seeking public votes and comments through its website to make this approval happen by next month. FAA will stop accepting public comments by Nov 1, 2021.
“Your support makes a big difference! Please let the FAA know your opinion,” Elon Musk requested the public to support the SpaceX mission by submitting their comments (link to the public comment form).
In order to be able to navigate in space, Starship needs vacuum-level engines with wider exhaust bell nozzles. Starship 20 is the first prototype that has been installed with the Raptor vacuum engines (RVac).
SpaceX had been preparing to for the SN20 RVac static fire test the entire last week. First, a Raptor vacuum engine was integrated onto Starship 20, then, this engine was fired for the first time in a preburner test between the night of 18 & 19th October.
After the success of the preburner engine test, SpaceX had to lock this oppportunity for the static fire test and the company seized it.
SpaceX performed two static fire tests on Starship SN20. In the first attempt, only the Raptor vacuum engine (RVac) was fired. The 2nd attempt included both the RVac and the sea-level Raptor engines.
Interestingly, some thermal protection system (TPS) heat-shield tiles fell off the Starship 20 during the 2nd test (full video by NasaSpaceFlight.com below).
Some of these heat tiles had also fallen off SN20 during the cryogenic pressure-proof testing last month. Looks like SpaceX still has to refine the heat tile installation process to withstand the engine thrust and in-flight atmospheric pressure at final launch.
The first Starship orbital flight test will be the biggest milestone in the history of this program to date. A successful orbital flight will put SpaceX far ahead of the competition, especially when it has already become the 2nd-ever $100B private comany in the world.