- SpaceX is planning to fly a Starship rocket prototype to its highest altitude yet this weekend, according to road closures and a Notice to Airmen issued for the aerospace company’s launch site in southern Texas.
- The spacecraft should fly 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the air. Previous prototypes have only made short hops of about 150 meters (492 feet).
- SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there was a lot that could go wrong, and gave the rocket a one-in-three chance of landing in one piece.
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This weekend, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, is poised to take a big step forward in its quest to further revolutionize space travel.
Musk tweeted on Sunday that a prototype of SpaceX’s enormous Starship spacecraft — a fully reusable vehicle the company wants to use to send humans to the moon and Mars — will soon undergo its first high-altitude test.
The flight attempt to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), follows a successful November 24 rocket-engine test firing of the Starship prototype, called SN8 or serial no. 8. The test also comes after a successful “hop” flight in August to roughly 150 meters (492 feet) using a previous prototype called SN5.
On Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for a rocket launch from the Boca Chica Village in southern Texas, where SpaceX is developing Starship, from Friday at 8 a.m. CT through Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.
However, both a NOTAM and road closures are required for launch. The Cameron County judge has issued Boca Chica road-closure notices for every weekday through December 9, but the only overlap with the NOTAM is Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT.
Musk: ‘Maybe 1/3 chance’ of a successful flight and landing
This test flight will be a big step in testing whether the design can withstand the rigors of flights to higher altitudes.
Musk said in a follow-up tweet on Wednesday that a “lot of things need to go right” for SN8 to land intact, adding that he thinks there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” that it does.
However, should SN8 fail, SpaceX’s Starship factory is cranking out more prototypes, and SN9 could soon be ready to take its place for future testing.
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SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft is made up of two sections, the Super Heavy booster and the Starship rocket ship, which Musk claims will be able to carry 100 people to Mars at a time. The entire spacecraft stands at 120 metres (394 feet) tall.
In October, Musk said SpaceX has a “fighting chance” of sending an uncrewed Starship rocket to Mars in 2024, two years later than previously hoped.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer said October 23 the Starship rocket system could help solve the problem of space junk.
“It’s quite possible that we could leverage Starship to go to some of these dead rocket bodies – other people’s rockets, of course — basically, pick up some of this junk in outer space,” she said.
First SpaceX needs to show Starship can safely fly to orbit and back. To launch such test missions from Boca Chica, the company faces a new environmental analysis with the Federal Aviation Administration. Depending on the outcome of that process, SpaceX may see a delay to orbit from a few months to a few years.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published at 5:59 a.m. ET on November 27, 2020.