It appears that SpaceX will be flying the latest prototype of its Starship vehicle, dubbed SN11, as early as Friday afternoon. Local residents have been informed about the test as part of a mandatory evacuation from Boca Chica Village.
This test flight to about 10km would be SpaceX’s fourth attempt to launch a full version of its Starship vehicle to a high altitude and then land it. During the first two attempts, the vehicle failed just before landing, resulting in a crash. On a third flight, on March 3, the vehicle landed and self-stabilized, but exploded about 10 minutes later due to a fuel leak.
The latest prototype of the Starship 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 was apparently not working properly, so it had to be replaced. Once this was done, SpaceX completed a second static burn test on Friday morning.
Following this test, a preliminary data review apparently gave the launch team enough confidence to proceed with a flight attempt later in the day. The start window will run until 8 p.m. local time in South Texas, or 1 a.m. UTC on Saturday. Local sunset will take place around 7:45 PM.
SpaceX has a lot to offer on this test flight as it is the fourth time the company will have attempted to demonstrate both control of the large vehicle in flight and its ability to make it to a safe landing. Failures are expected with such a hasty development program, but sooner or later the company would want to land Starship and move on with the program.
The launch comes as SpaceX nears completion of the first prototype Super Heavy booster, which will be used to launch Starship into orbit. The first version of this missile, BN1, will not fly, but will instead serve as a demonstration vehicle that will be moved to the launch site and tested with support equipment on the ground. The next booster, BN2, is expected to fly and possibly later this spring.
SpaceX would also like to show success with Starship to NASA, which is expected to select two companies in about a month to proceed with versions of a Human Landing System as part of the Artemis Moon program. SpaceX is one of three bidders – alongside Blue Origin and Dynetics – with its Starship vehicle, and is the furthest in actual hardware development.
Frame image by Trevor Mahlmann