Planning emails published by Cameron County, Texas officials have revealed a more detailed picture of SpaceX’s April Fools’ Day Starship testing plans.
Published soon after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that six landing legs have already been installed on Starship SN3, county documents noted that SpaceX has two Starship tests planned on April 1st. The second test is contingent upon the successful completion of the first, which is scheduled to begin as early as 4pm CDT (21:00 UTC).
SpaceX has built up Starship SN3 – the third full-scale prototype to make it to testing – from a handful a separate steel rings into a ~30m (100 ft) tall, 9m (30 ft) wide rocket. Technically, the hardware SpaceX transported from its Boca Chica, Texas factory to an adjacent launch pad on March 29th is just the bottom ~60% of Starship SN3, but it’s undoubtedly the most important part of the ship. The SN3 tank and engine section now installed on a launch mount represents the business half (give or take) of Starship, itself just the upper stage and spacecraft of SpaceX’s next-generation, fully-reusable rocket.
Previous full-scale Starship testing – attempted with the Mk1 and SN1 prototypes on November 2019 and February 2020, respectively – have not gone according to plan. However, for each recent Starship testing failure, SpaceX has subsequently completed one or several ‘proof’ tests with smaller tanks, proving that improved construction methods are technically up to the tasks required of them. Most notably, SpaceX completed two Starship tank pressure tests in January 2020, consecutively reaching ~7.5 and ~8.5 bar (110 and 125 psi) – the latter representing a full 40% safety margin on top of the 6 bar minimum Starship needs for orbital flight.
Most recently, SpaceX completed its third Starship test tank campaign in mid-March, proving less than two weeks later that the design fault that destroyed Starship SN1 had already been rectified. Now, Starship SN3 sits at the same test site, representing the hopeful culmination of the many lessons SpaceX has learned from its prolific testing over the last five months.
Now, Starship SN3’s first series of ground tests are scheduled to begin as early as 4pm CDT, just half an hour or so from the time this article was published. According to documents shared by Cameron County, SpaceX’s plan is to begin with a room-temperature gas test, likely pressurizing Starship SN3 with nitrogen to check for leaks. By testing with gas (instead of water), completing the initial test would leave Starship free to immediately proceed to a more ambitious test. This is precisely SpaceX’s plan: if Starship passes the nitrogen gas test, Starship SN3 could begin a cryogenic liquid nitrogen proof test just three hours later, kicking off no earlier than 8pm CDT (01:00 UTC, April 2).
Featuring a brand new 4K camera, local resident and SpaceX fan LabPadre’s live stream should offer some exceptional, uninterrupted views if or when SpaceX kicks off Starship SN3’s first tests later today.