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SpaceX Ready To Test Heat Shields That Will Protect Interplanetary Starship During Re-Entry

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Ahead of the upcoming orbital dry run of SpaceX's new interplanetary spacecraft, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter that the Starship's heat shields passed the full duration of ground tests.

The said heat shields will prevent the hopper from burning upon its re-entry to Earth.

Hopper Tests

SpaceX said it is working on regulatory approval of the Starship's orbital test flights in Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Kennedy, Florida.

A non-public testing of the hopper's newly installed ground system and a short static fire test will take place on March 20. The Cameron County informed the public that it will close Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach for space flight activities.

In early February, the company fitted a Raptor engine into a Starship prototype in preparation for the initial liftoff of the next-generation space vehicle.

The Raptor fired 60 percent of its rated thrust, or about 255,000 pounds-force, with a chamber pressure of 170 bars in a testing at SpaceX's McGregor, Texas, site.

Musk also shared that early tests for the Starship will make use of a single-engine raptor and will fly very briefly. He said that three engines will power future suborbital flights.

SpaceX unveiled the Starship prototype flight rocket called Starhopper on Jan. 10. However, testing was put off after its nosecone was toppled and damaged by strong winds.

Hexagon Heat Shields 

The white-hot regions of the shields can heat up to around 1,650 degrees Kelvin and can withstand extreme temperatures during orbital re-entry.

The design and building of the heat shields will allow Starship to be ready to fly again immediately after landing even without refurbishment because of the transpiration cooling installed in the hottest sections. These cooling systems will minimize damage on the shields.

"Transpiration cooling will be added wherever we see erosion of the shield," tweeted Musk.

Building Of The Starship

The company will not use a new nosecone for the hopper. It will focus instead on constructing the actual orbital Starship rocket and the accompanying booster called Super Heavy.

Musk envisions the Starship as the vehicle to transport humans to Mars and other planets. It is capable of carrying more than 300,000 pounds into Earth orbit.

The spacecraft will serve as a reusable upper stage for the company's next-generation launch system that comes with a separate Super Heavy booster as the reusable first stage.

"Once we get through the hopper test campaign, we'll then be moving to orbital flight with Starship: getting up into Earth orbit and testing out systems on board and recovery," said Paul Wooster, principal Mars development engineer at SpaceX.

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