Back in September of last year, SpaceX revealed the first Starship prototype, the first of a few test vehicles that would approve of the design the next-generation space probes that would meet Elon Musk’s intend of making commercial flights to the Moon and Mars possible.
While there was a bit of delay back in November of last year after the Mk. 1 encountered a structural issue, Musk stated that the company would be progressing with other prototypes. As the CEO explained then, this would include the Mk. 3 prototype carrying out an orbital test flight to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) in 2020.
SpaceX Asked For Permission to Test the Vehicle
As per recent registrations made with the FCC, the test could take place as early as mid-March and will have the spacecraft launch from the space company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and soaring at 20 kilometers (12.6 miles) altitude before touching down.
According to the fillings, SpaceX is asking for access to radio frequencies for an ‘experimental launch, landing, and recovery of the Starship suborbital test vehicle’ so that the engineers can manage the spacecraft throughout the flight and control its trajectory.
This test will be another significant step in the advancement of the Starship and Super Heavy launch system, which Elon Musk stated to be able to carry payloads of about 100 metric tons, and crews of up to 100 to space. This would comprise cargo and crews transported to the Moon by 2022 and 2024, with the extended purpose of carrying out frequent missions to Mars.
The Mk. 3 is the Most Powerful Space Vehicle so Far
When the explosion of the Mk. 1 prototype occurred, the company took the decision to abandon it and proceed with fully-assembled Mk. 2 and the enhanced Mk. 3 design, which is being constructed at SpaceX’s facility in Texas.
Dissimilar to the Mk. 1 and Mk. 2, the body of the Mk. 3 prototype would be designed out of single-piece rings of welded steel and would pack an engine configuration that is created especially for an orbital flight.
Whereas the Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 featured six Raptor engines designed for sea-level, the Mk. 3 would pack three sea-level optimized engines and three vacuum-optimized Raptor engines. This is the same design as what the final construct of the Starship intends to be while the Super Heavy launch vehicle will feature 37 Raptor engines: 30 of them will be designed for sea-level, and seven of them will be optimized for vacuum.
While a 20-kilometer orbit is just a small portion of the 100 kilometers (62 miles) orbital test that the space company intends to carry out, it is a significant milestone for both the Starship and the Raptor engine. Besides the successful ground tests containing the Raptor engine, SpaceX flight tested the engine utilizing the Starship Hopper to 150 meters (500 feet) altitude last year in summer.
Even so, an orbital test journey is still away, and there are other things that have to happen before that can be accomplished. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s FCC filing has asked permission to start the test on March 16th, even though it would take them until September 16th to carry out this test flight.