SpaceX will try to launch its Starship prototype to 10km today [Updated]

Enlarge / SpaceX believes its SN9 prototype is ready to take to the skies.


8:00am ET Thursday: Today appears to be the day that SpaceX will attempt to launch its latest Starship prototype—Serial No. 9, or SN9. The goal is to fly the vehicle to about 10km, demonstrate a controlled descent using the vehicle’s body flaps, and then reorient Starship so that it makes a vertical landing. The last Starship prototype flight attempt, in December, made a fiery landing after a propellant tank pressurization issue.

The launch window for Thursday’s test attempt runs from 9am local time in South Texas to 6 pm (15:00 UTC to 24:00 UTC). The company has issued evacuation notices to local residents, and weather should be favorable at the launch site along the lower Texas coast. As of late Wednesday night, SpaceX had not yet received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, but the company’s ongoing preparations indicate it is expected today.

A webcast of the launch will be embedded into this post when SpaceX goes live with it.

3:40pm ET Monday: SpaceX began preparations for a launch on Monday, and closed roads leading to the pad in South Texas. However, they ended up not evacuating local residents, indicating there would be no launch attempt on January 25. It is possible that winds at the launch site were too high—gusts near 30mph at the surface were noted.

This now means the company is likely to try again on Tuesday or Wednesday, when roads are scheduled to be closed from 8am to 5pm local time (18:00-23:00 UTC). Winds are forecast to be more favorable at that time.

Original post: It’s finally time to find out whether Starship prototype Serial No. 9 will become SN Fine or SN Nein.

After a series of static fire tests on its latest Starship prototype, SpaceX appears set to launch the full-scale vehicle as early as Monday afternoon from its rocket facility in South Texas. The nominal plan is for the prototype to ascend to an altitude as high as 12.5km, perform a “belly flop” maneuver to simulate bleeding off energy during a return through Earth’s atmosphere, reorient itself, and land near the launch pad.

Only a little more than six weeks have passed since SpaceX conducted a similar test of the SN8 vehicle in South Texas. That flight test went splendidly up until near the end of its flight. However, due to a pressure failure in a fuel tank at the top of the vehicle, the vehicle’s Raptor engines were deprived of the fuel needed to make a soft landing.

So the vehicle made a spectacular crash landing into the pad.

See the fate of SN8.

Fortunately, the wreckage was soon cleared away. And in its nearby factory, SpaceX had the SN9 vehicle almost ready to go. It might have moved to the launch pad sooner, but in mid-December the SN9 prototype leaned over, falling into the wall of its high bay. This necessitated several days of checkouts and flap replacements. Then there were issues with the Raptor engines that were discovered across several static fire attempts. All of this and more required intensive work to ready SN9 for its flight.

Sources have said SpaceX is eager to get SN9 into the sky because SN10 itself is nearly ready to stretch its wings. We can probably expect that vehicle to be moved down the road to the launch site within days of SN9’s flight, regardless of the outcome. Testing often to find the bugs is one feature of a hardware-rich program like the one SpaceX is using to develop Starship.

The six-hour launch window for Monday’s test extends from noon local time (18:00 UTC) to 6pm (24:00 UTC). As with previous tests, a technical issue may cause the test campaign to abort its launch attempt at any point. Should they be needed, SpaceX has backup launch opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday, although weather conditions appear to be more favorable for Tuesday.


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