The Starship will be equipped with reinforced armor to withstand the intense heat

SpaceX is preparing its next Starship flight, expected in July 2024. Among the expected developments, there is a more efficient heat shield to resist atmospheric reentry.

SpaceX has no time to lose. The American company could take advantage of the month of July 2024 to organize a new test flight of the Starship, just a few weeks after the attempt organized at the beginning of June. It's the schedule what Elon Musk sketched on June 10, while testing a live broadcast on X (formerly Twitter).

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If this forecast schedule is correct, the fifth Starship flight would therefore arrive around mid-July. This would be the shortest time between two tests in rocket history. There were seven months between flights 1 and 2, then almost four between flights 2 and 3. For the last two, the wait was a little less than three months.

Obviously, the next test is expected to revalidate all of the steps already accomplished previously. Improving engine reliability is also a necessary step. On two occasions, one of them did not respond as expected (1 out of 33 during takeoff then 1 out of 13 during an aerial maneuver).

Source: SpaceX
The Starship suffered during atmospheric reentry. // Source: SpaceX

Crossing atmospheric re-entry without incident, SpaceX’s challenge

One of the big challenges, however, will remain the reiteration of the landing of the first stage (Super Heavy), which was carried out for the first time on June 6 during the fourth test. Another big challenge: returning the Starship safely to the Earth's atmosphere and landing it on land. During this phase, the space vehicle was damaged.

StarshipStarship
Aerodynamic flow, during atmospheric reentry. // Source : SpaceX

The relative structural weakness of the Starship was recognized by Elon Musk during his live broadcast. He indicated that the ship's heat shield will have to be replaced with another copy. This will use tiles that will be twice as resistant, he promised. Furthermore, a ablative material will serve as a second layer of protection against overheating.

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Atmospheric reentry is a very trying moment for a vehicle entering the atmosphere, whether it is a capsule, a shuttle or a rocket. For example, the American space shuttle had tiles capable of withstanding temperatures reaching 1,650°Cwith a return speed around 28,000 km/h. The Orion capsule of the Artemis program, which will accommodate astronauts, was thought to withstand temperatures that can rise to 2,760°C, during an atmospheric reentry going at just over 40,000 km/h. The temperatures involved are extreme to say the least, not to say hellish.

Tests of the components that will be used for the fifth flight are already in the trial phase. On May 8, the company had carried out a static ignition test of the spacecraft to verify the proper functioning of the craft. The month of July promises to be intense for aerospace fans: it will also be when there will be the inaugural flight of Ariane 6.

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Source: SpaceXSource: SpaceX

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