In the absence of official confirmation alone, SpaceX appears to be preparing the fourth full-size Starship prototype to attempt a Raptor static fire test and launch on the same day.
That hopeful day in question is today – Friday, March 26. If all goes to plan, Starship’s serial number SN11 will power up its three Raptors and verify their health after an engine was apparently swapped Wednesday. Possibly just an hour or two later, after disconnecting and restarting liquid oxygen and methane propellant, the Starship prototype could take off on SpaceX’s fourth high-altitude test flight.
Late on March 24, SpaceX rolled the Raptor engine SN46 from its Boca Chica plant to the launch pad, where Starship SN11 is installed on one of two sub-orbital launch supports. The movement of the engine and subsequent installation came as a surprise, as no one managed to catch an implicit removal of the Starship SN11 engine in the two or three days before (extremely thick fog is the most likely cause).
The implied issue with the Raptor being removed is likely the cause of a multi-day launch delay that followed Starship’s seemingly successful static fire on Monday. After that test, the SN11 was initially scheduled to launch on Tuesday or Wednesday, but would slip from day to day as the week went on. SN11 first rolled to the launch pad on March 8, just 18 days ago, so launch delays come as no big surprise, given that the current factory-to-launch record for a three-engined spaceship is 33 days, three static fires, and an engine change.
If SN11 manages a same-day static fire and launch on March 26, it will still smash that record by nearly 50%. To some extent, the performance is not unprecedented either. On March 3, Starship SN10 aborted its first true launch attempt milliseconds after the Raptor fired when the rocket’s flight computer detected indications that they were producing too much thrust. Amazingly, instead of scrubbing the launch attempt, SpaceX loosened Starship SN10’s thrust limit parameters and tried again, successfully just three hours after abort.
Despite breaking down and immediately recycling hands-free, Starship SN10 subsequently became the first prototype of its kind to launch up to 10 km (6.2 mi), free-fall back to Earth and land in one piece. Minutes later, a fire and a harder than expected landing caused the SN10 to explode, but the test flight was arguably still a huge success. At the same time, the flight indicated that Starships are technically capable of flying successfully for hours after a launch has been aborted after ignition, demonstrating an extraordinary level of robustness for clustered high-performance rocket engines.
As such, although it is probably reasonable to assume that Starship SN11 just launch today, SN10 proved that there is no zero chance of a static fire and launch hours apart. Additionally, given how close SN10 is to unequivocal success (i.e., a soft and survivable landing), Starship SN11 has the best chance yet to launch, land and pass the ordeal. without explode.
The third static fire of the spaceship SN11 and the first launch attempt are both currently scheduled for sometime between 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. CDT (UTC-5). Stay tuned for updates as we await official confirmation from SpaceX and an evacuation notice from the residents of Boca Chica Village.