SpaceX’s first proven spacecraft returned to factory for probable retirement

While SpaceX spent the better part of three weeks inspecting the first flight-proven spacecraft to survive a high altitude launch and landing, the company appears to have decided to remove the rocket instead of piloting it again.

On May 25, four days after the Starship 15’s serial number (SN15) was reinstalled on one of SpaceX’s two suborbital launch mounts, a crane was strapped to its nose and a transporter placed next to it. A day later, the historic prototype of the spacecraft was lifted off Mount B, installed on this transporter, and rolled away from the launch pad and back to the SpaceX plant in Boca Chica, Texas Starship.

The day after the Starship SN15 was reinstalled on a launch medium, giving SpaceX unrestricted access to its rear, the rocket’s three flight-proven Raptor engines – the first of their kind to survive the intact flight profile – were removed. . Considering the significant value of demolishing and inspecting the first flight-proven high altitude Raptors, this removal was likely guaranteed regardless of the future of the SN15, although it certainly left the Starship behind. at the crossroads.

Having already had its six used landing legs removed, the Starship SN15 was left more or less declawed on the launch pad as fans eagerly watched to see if any new legs or engines would be fitted. For better or for worse, while CEO Elon Musk did indicate that SpaceX “may try to refly SN15 soon” Within two days of its historic landing, it quickly became clear the company had decided not to reuse.

To some extent, especially if SN15’s flight-proven Raptor engines were rendered unusable – as they appear to have been – by exposure to water immediately after touchdown, “reusing” the Starship would be more symbolic than something else. With a close inspection, it would be fairly easy to determine that the Starship’s structures and mechanical / hydraulic systems would be ready for a second launch, but the slow flight profile of about 10 km (6.2 mi) of the SN8 ships at SN11 and SN15 was already finished. only relevant for testing Starship’s exotic and unproven landing method.

In this sense, another fully successful launch and landing of around 10 km would only benefit the development of Starship to the extent that it increases confidence in the landing profile by proving that the first success was no accident – as incredibly improbable as that may be. It should be noted that SpaceX also does not intend to recover the first proven spacecraft, but to perform (nominally) a soft landing in the Pacific Ocean if the prototype passes its maiden space flight without problem.

If this “orbital test flight” is a complete success, SpaceX will likely have enough confidence – and regulators enough data – to make the first attempt to recover an orbital spacecraft on land. In the meantime, with the build-up of the orbital launch site now moving at breakneck speed and tens of millions of dollars in custom pad hardware, giant cranes and months of work sitting a few hundred yards from the runway. landing, trying to push the limits with SN15 is probably not worth the risk.

Almost hidden behind Starship SN16, SpaceX recently began stacking the first airworthy Super Heavy booster. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagale)

The SN15 is also historic hardware after its successful landing and there are signs – namely where SpaceX moved the rocket – that the Starship will be on permanent display next to the factory that built it. There is a limited possibility that the nearly finished Starship SN16 could be sent to the launch site instead of heading straight for the scrapyard, but any testing would necessarily delay the construction of the orbital platform and any flight activity. should probably spend SN16 in the ocean instead. than to risk a land landing.

Ultimately, it seems increasingly likely that SpaceX would prefer to embark on Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, even if that means little or no availability of ground or flight tests for a few months.

SpaceX’s first proven spacecraft returned to factory for probable retirement

About Theresa Burton

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