WASHINGTON — NASA says SpaceX plans to demonstrate refueling Starship in space next year. This is an important technology for returning humans to the moon using spacecraft.

On April 26, at the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Amit Kshatriya, NASA's Moon-Mars program deputy administrator, said that SpaceX's latest Starship test flight demonstration on March 14 , said they had achieved a step towards refueling the Starship.

During the flight, SpaceX conducted an onboard propellant transfer demonstration under the NASA Tipping Point contract signed in 2020. SpaceX planned to transfer at least 10 tons of liquid oxygen from the header tank inside the Starship upper stage to the main tank during the flight. space.

SpaceX announced the demonstration on the day of the flight, but neither the company nor NASA provided any updates since then. But at the advisory committee meeting, Kshatriya said the tests appeared to be successful.

“On the third flight, we performed a tank-to-tank transfer of cryogen, which by all accounts was a success,” he said, adding that analysis of the test was ongoing.

The next big milestone is a demonstration planned for 2025, when two Starships will dock in orbit, with one transferring propellant to the other. According to slides he presented at the meeting, the plan for that purpose has passed a flight systems review, which includes consideration of the entire mission architecture and major subsystems.

In that mission, the “target” starship will be the first to launch and enter orbit, followed by the “chaser” starship three to four weeks later. The two vehicles dock with a chaser that transfers propellant to the target. After the demonstration, the two starships undock and leave orbit.

Mr. Kshatriya said that in advance of the test, SpaceX was working to reduce the amount of propellant splatter in Starship's tanks during maneuvers, as well as the “sediment thrust” needed to ensure propellant flow between the vehicles after they docked. He said he is doing some work, including understanding the amount of

Slides from Kshatriya's presentation showing plans for the Starship propellant transfer demonstration.

“The point of the flight test program before we do this is to fully understand the dynamics of the slosh, how the ullage is maintained, and what the sinking thrust needs to be. to make sure,” he said. “We've been going over this plan together. It's a good plan.”

Propellant transfer technology is relevant for Starship missions beyond low-Earth orbit, starting with the currently scheduled Artemis 3 mission and including the Human Landing System (HLS) version of Starship used to land astronauts on the Moon. Essential to SpaceX's plans. September 2026. Starship's multiple launches will transport propellant to storage in low Earth orbit, where it will be used as fuel for HLS Starship and sent to the moon.

The exact number of refueling launches is a matter of debate, with estimates suggesting it could be closer to 20. Kshatriya did not mention the number of launches in his presentation, but suggested that more research is needed to better understand the refueling process.

He said the company is working to understand factors such as propellant boil-off and leakage, and how much propellant can be effectively transferred from Starship. “These are all things that we know they have in front of us, but they are all things that are in the plan to characterize,” he said. “Then you will get the answer.”

The in-space propellant transfer test will be followed by an unmanned HLS Starship demonstration mission. This includes refueling the vehicle and sending it to the moon for landing. He said the mission will also include an “ascent demonstration” that was not part of the original plan, to prove that Starship can take off from the moon's surface.

“Full and rapid reusability of boosters and ships and in-orbit refueling of ships are two fundamental technologies that we aim to solve by the end of next year,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says. posted on social media April 26th, in response to another post about Kshatriya presentations. “They are important elements needed to make life multiplanetary.”

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