SpaceX appears set to fly the latest prototype of its Starship vehicle, dubbed the SN11, on Friday afternoon. Local residents have been informed of the test as part of a mandatory evacuation from Boca Chica Village.
This 10km test flight would be SpaceX’s fourth attempt to launch a full-scale version of its Starship vehicle at a high altitude and then land it. During the first two attempts, the vehicle failed just before landing, causing an accident. During a third flight, on March 3, the vehicle landed and stabilized, but then exploded about 10 minutes later due to a fuel leak.
The latest Starship prototype has come together quickly. It rolled to the launch pad on March 8 and underwent its first static fire test on March 22. During this test, one of the three Raptor engines apparently failed, so it had to be replaced. Once this was done, SpaceX completed a second static fire test on Friday morning.
After this test, a preliminary data review apparently gave the launch team enough confidence to go ahead with a flight attempt later in the day. The launch window extends until 8 p.m. local time in South Texas, or until 01:00 UTC on Saturday. The local sunset will occur around 7:45 pm.
SpaceX has a lot at stake in this test flight, as it is the fourth time the company has attempted to demonstrate both in-flight control of the large vehicle and the ability to bring it to a safe landing. Failures are expected with such a rushed development schedule, but sooner or later, the company would really like to land Starship and move on with the program.
The launch comes as SpaceX is about to complete the first prototype of the Super Heavy thruster, which will be used to put Starship into orbit. The first version of this rocket, BN1, will not fly, but will serve as a demonstration vehicle that will be moved to the launch site and tested with ground support equipment. The next booster, BN2, is expected to fly and could do so later this spring.
SpaceX would also like to be able to demonstrate success with Starship to NASA, which is expected in about a month to select two companies to move forward with versions of a Human Landing System as part of the Artemis Moon program. SpaceX, with its Starship vehicle, is among the three bidders, along with Blue Origin and Dynetics, and is the most advanced in actual hardware development.
Trevor Mahlmann listing image