SpaceX attempted a high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 15 (SN15) as early as Wednesday, May 5 – Their fifth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas. Vehicle enhancements in SN15 include a new enhanced avionics package, revised propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration, which allows for more speed and efficiency during development and flight.
SN15 guided through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the spacecraft reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude – similar to previous high-altitude Starship flight tests. Until reorienting itself for re-entry and a controlled aerodynamic descent, SN15 can perform a propellant transfer to the internal header tanks, which carry landing propellant.
The Starship prototype descended with active aero-dynamic control, which was accomplished by the self-directed movement of the vehicle’s two forward & two aft flaps. An on the ship flight computer controls all 4 flaps to regulate Starship’s attitude during flight & allow accurate landing at the anticipated position. The Raptor engines on the SN15 was then re-ignite as the vehicle attempts a landing flip manoeuvre before landing on the landing pad next to the launch mount.
Landing the Starship at locations around the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth, requires a controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, as well as in-space refilling. This capability would enable humanity to return to the Moon, fly to Mars, and beyond using a completely reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights.
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