SpaceX: Elon Musk’s Starship Hex Tiles Take on the Heat Ahead of Hop Tests
Burn, baby, burn! Elon Musk has been turning up the heat on the Starship’s hexagonal heat shield tiles. SpaceX’s upcoming rocket ship is designed with a stainless steel construction and an engine that uses liquid oxygen and methane, enabling Musk to achieve his goals of sending humans to Mars and even further afield.
The test comes as documents seen by Business Insider, handed out to residents near the Boca Chica facility in Texas, show the company could complete the first Starship hop tests as early as Monday, paving the way for next steps like a full-sized orbital prototype in 2020. The shield test, shared via his Twitter page Sunday, showed the white hot areas reached 1,650 Kelvin, or 2,510 degrees Fahrenheit. SpaceX is using a hexagonal shape, Musk explained, to ensure there’s “no straight path for hot gas to accelerate through the gaps.” It’s necessary for ship itself, Musk explained, because the “Super Heavy” booster only moves at a speed of around Mach 8 or 9 at high altitudes, meaning it requires no shield or paint. Like the first shield tests Musk shared, the second test passed fine.
Musk explained that the cooling systems work in conjunction with the previously-detailed transpiration cooling method. This involves using the ship’s stainless steel design to pass either water or chilled liquid oxygen through holes to reduce temperature. Musk explained that such cooling will be added in places where the shield is eroded, enabling the ship to fly immediately without repairing the shield.
These advancements will be key for enabling the ship to refuel and continue its journeys away from earth. SpaceX plans to send a team of humans to Mars in two Starships with supplies, tasked with setting up a propellant plant and establishing basic life cycle systems. The goal is to enable journeys home, while also paving the way for further trips out to other moons and planets. Neil deGrasse Tyson has hailed this plan as a potential breakthrough for humanity, stating in November 2018 that “a whole category of war has the potential of evaporating entirely with the exploitation of space resources, which includes the unlimited access to energy as well”.
If SpaceX successfully completes its hop tests, it will bode well for the ship’s first major missions. The company plans to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with a team of artists as early as 2023.
Once the first humans reach Mars, a colony could take shape as early as 2030.