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Elon Musk’s SpaceX is preparing to launch the latest prototype of its next-generation Starship rocket on Wednesday, in the system’s third high-altitude flight test.
The prototype spacecraft serial number 10 rocket, or SN10, will aim to launch and fly as high as 10 kilometers, or some 32,800 feet in altitude. The rocket is constructed of stainless steel, representing the first versions of the rocket that Musk introduced in 2019.
SpaceX fired the rocket’s engines briefly for a launch attempt around 3:15 p.m. ET, but a “slightly conservative high thrust limit” caused the rocket to abort the attempt, Musk said in a tweet.
“Increase the thrust limit and recycle the thruster for another flight attempt today,” Musk said.
SpaceX chief integration engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s webcast that he hopes to make another launch attempt.
The Federal Aviation Administration launch window for the SN10 attempt runs until 7:30 pm ET.
The company is developing Starship with the goal of launching cargo and people on missions to the Moon and Mars.
The SN10 spacecraft prototype rocket sits on the launch pad at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility.
The flight will be similar to those SpaceX made in December and February, when it tested the SN8 and SN9 prototypes, respectively. Both earlier rockets completed various development goals, including testing aerodynamics, shutting down the engines in succession, and flipping over to orient themselves for landing, but both prototypes exploded on impact while attempting to land, unable to slow down enough.
Like SN8 and SN9, the goal of the SN10 flight is not necessarily to reach maximum altitude, but to test various key parts of the Starship system. The Starship prototype stands about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and is powered by three Raptor rocket engines. SpaceX will turn on all three engines for takeoff and then turn them off one at a time in sequence as it approaches the top of the intended flight altitude.
The SN10 will aim to transfer the propellant from the main tanks to the header tanks, and then it will turn to perform the “belly flop” re-entry maneuver in order to control its descent through the air with the four flaps of the rocket. Then, in the final moments of descent, SpaceX will return the rocket to a vertical orientation and fire the Raptor engines to slow down for a landing attempt.
While SpaceX has yet to successfully land a Starship prototype after a high-altitude flight test, the company has landed earlier prototypes after short flights at around 500 feet in elevation.
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