Minutes after a seemingly successful landing, SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded on the pad

starship sn10 landing
The SN10 reignites its three Raptor engines to upright itself and land in this screengrab from a SpaceX livestream.

SpaceX finally launched a prototype of its Starship rocket miles into the air on Wednesday, then landed it successfully. But 10 minutes later, the rocket exploded.

The roughly 16-story test vehicle – called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10 – lifted off at at 5:14 p.m. on Wednesday. As it climbed, it shut off one engine and then another. The rocket hovered at the peak of its flight for about 30 seconds, then cut its last engine, tipped over, and belly-flopped toward the ground. 

As it neared the ground, the Raptor engines reignited, flipped SN10 upright, and slowly lowered it to the landing pad.

“Third time’s the charm, as the saying goes,” John Insprucker, SpaceX’s principal integration engineer, declared on the company’s livestream.

But a fire persisted around the rocket’s skirt. Then about 10 minutes later, an explosion thrust SN10 back into the air, leaving it in pieces on the landing pad.

The prototype’s predecessors, SN8 and SN9, completed similar high-altitude flights but flubbed their landings. They each slammed into the landing pad and immediately blew up. Still, those flights – and this one – demonstrated that Starship could rocket to high altitudes and control its plummet back to Earth. On Wednesday, SN10 showed that it can land on the ground in one piece, too – at least initially.

A 2-part, fully reusable launch system

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The SN10 lands in one piece on SpaceX’s Boca Chica landing pad, in this screengrab from the test flight livestream.

SpaceX broadcast the test flight, which you can watch in the YouTube video below, minus the delayed explosion. To start, Starship’s three truck-sized Raptor engines roared to life, heaved it off the ground, and rumbled past the launchpad at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, a remote strip of land in southeastern Texas. After it began its descent, two aerodynamic wing flaps at the rocket’s nosecone and two at its base – operated by an on-board computer – moved independently to control SN10’s fall and maintain its belly-flop position.

SN10 is the upper stage of a system designed to have two parts: A roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would one day heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit.

If it works, the Starship-Super Heavy launch system could slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, since it would eliminate the need to build new rockets and spaceships for each spaceflight. Musk wants to construct a fleet of reusable Starships to power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, fly astronauts to the moon, and one day carry people to Mars.

An eventual flight to low-Earth orbit

illustration starship spaceship rocket ship super heavy booster launching clouds looking down earth spacex
An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster launching together toward space.

Once SpaceX figures out how Starship can nail its launch and landing, the company will want to rocket a prototype into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a new type of launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, but obtaining it involves clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. Depending on the findings of that assessment, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new environmental impact statement, which could take up to three years.

Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells and build gas-fired power plants in Boca Chica. Such plans could prolong SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Musk and the FAA have clashed before: SpaceX launched its first high-altitude Starship flight, for its SN8 prototype, without FAA approval, which triggered an investigation.

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

That inquiry was still ongoing, as was another investigation into the causes of SN8’s explosive landing, at the time SpaceX wanted to launch its next Starship prototype, SN9. In January, SpaceX announced that the SN9 was about to fly. But as the rocket sat ready on the launchpad, the FAA suddenly yanked the airspace closure that made way for the rocket’s path. There was no launch that day.

In response to the delay, Musk railed against the FAA on Twitter, saying its space division had “a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that “humanity will never get to Mars” under its rules.

The following week, the FAA approved the SN9 launch license updates and gave SpaceX the green light. The rocket soared and crashed, much like its predecessor.

Musk says he is “highly confident” SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

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Watch live: SpaceX is launching a new Starship rocket prototype. The last 2 attempts ended in explosions.

elon musk spacex starship explosion thumb 4x3
SpaceX’s Starship SN9 prototype failed to ignite one of its engines upon landing, so it slammed into the ground and exploded on February 2, 2021.

SpaceX plans to rocket its latest Starship prototype tens of thousands of feet into the air on Wednesday afternoon.

The challenge is landing it back on the ground – that maneuver has ended in explosion both times the company previously attempted it. This time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that the prototype has a 60% chance of a successful landing.

The prototype represents the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to one day fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars.

starship sn10 spadre
The SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

But first, SpaceX has to figure out how to land the rocket, since that is critical to making the system reusable. Full reusability could help Starship slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

The newest prototype is called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10. SpaceX is preparing to launch it at about 4:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

A flight computer automatically aborted an attempt to lift off earlier in the afternoon, at 2:14 p.m. The abort was due to a “slightly conservative high thrust limit,” Musk said on Twitter. “Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today.”

When it does lift off, SN10 should roar nearly 33,000 feet above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Then one by one, it should shut off its engines as it nears the peak of its flight, flip sideways, and plummet back to Earth in a controlled belly flop. As it nears the ground, the rocket should fire its engines once again to flip itself upright in time to slow its descent and touch down gently on the landing pad.

The last two times SpaceX conducted such a flight, the prototypes slammed into their landing pads and exploded.

SPadre.com captured the second incident from a camera on top of a building about 6 miles away:

 

Watch SN10’s launch attempt live 

SpaceX will start a new live feed a few minutes before launch. We will embed that video below once it’s available. In the meantime, fans of the company are also on the ground and streaming their own live video of the launch site.

We recommend starting with NASASpaceflight‘s video stream, given the broadcasters’ knowledge and multiple quality camera views.

The commentators on the feed keep track of preparations at the SpaceX facilities that indicate progress toward liftoff – things like clearing the launchpad, activity in the tank farm next to SN10, and the loading of liquid propellant into the rocket. 

LabPadre offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a hotel resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also issued airspace-closure notices for the area from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday and Friday – backup dates in case weather or technical issues cause SpaceX to scrub the Wednesday attempt. Likewise, Cameron County has given notice that a nearby road will be closed on those days, which is another prerequisite for launch.

SpaceX faces regulatory hurdles to get Starship to orbit

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

SpaceX’s two previous test flights – those of prototypes SN8 and SN9 – were considered successes despite their explosive endings. That’s because they demonstrated that Starship is capable of rocketing to suborbital heights and then controlling its fall.

However, those flights both resulted in FAA investigations, since the agency wanted to determine the cause of the explosions. It turned out that SN8 had fallen victim to low pressure in a propellant tank, which led the spaceship to fall too fast and slam into its landing pad. An additional issue with that attempt was that SpaceX hadn’t gotten the proper FAA approval, violating its launch license.

This triggered its own investigation, which then held up the SN9 flight. Once that prototype did fly, one of its three Raptor engines failed to relight as the rocket neared the ground.

All those investigations have been closed, an FAA spokesperson told CNN reporter Jackie Wattles. And the launch-license updates for the SN10 flight are approved, according to Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport.

Eventually, SpaceX will want to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a different type of FAA license, but obtaining it means clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. (The environmental impact statement SpaceX previously completed for Boca Chica launches focused on the company’s smaller rockets, rather than its larger Starship-Super Heavy system.)

The company is waiting to start that environmental assessment, but depending on the findings, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new impact statement, which could take up to three years. Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document, obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells in Boca Chica to fuel Starships and on-site power plants. Such plans could affect SpaceX’s environmental review process.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 23, 2021. 

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SpaceX is about to reattempt a high-altitude flight of its Starship rocket. The last 2 prototypes blew up.

elon musk spacex starship explosion thumb 4x3
SpaceX’s Starship SN9 prototype failed to ignite one of its engines upon landing, so it slammed into the ground and exploded on February 2, 2021.

SpaceX is preparing to rocket its latest Starship prototype tens of thousands of feet into the air as early as this week.

The challenge is landing it back on the ground – that maneuver has ended in explosion both times the company previously attempted it. This time around, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that the prototype has a 60% chance of a successful landing.

The prototype represents the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to one day fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars.

starship sn10 spadre
The SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

But first, SpaceX has to figure out how to land the rocket, since that is critical to making the system reusable. Full reusability could help Starship slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

The newest prototype is called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10. It’s not yet clear precisely when SpaceX plans to attempt its test flight, but Musk said on Sunday that there’s a “good chance” of launch this week.

When that happens, SN10 will roar tens of thousands of feet above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. One by one, it should shut off its engines as it nears the peak of its flight, then flip sideways and plummet back to Earth in a controlled belly flop. As it nears the ground, the rocket should fire its engines once again to flip itself upright in time to slow its descent and touch down gently on the landing pad.

The last two times SpaceX conducted such a flight, the prototypes slammed into their landing pads and exploded.

SPadre.com captured the second incident from a camera on top of a building about 6 miles away:

Before this upcoming launch, SpaceX needs to conduct a static fire to test the rocket’s engines, but the company appears to have all the government clearance it needs for launch. That includes a launch-license approval, local road closures, and airspace closures.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued airspace-closure notices for the area from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Cameron County, Texas, has also issued a Boca Chica road-closure notice from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT for Thursday. However, road and airspace closures can be canceled and rescheduled over and over until SpaceX is actually ready to launch.

We will update this post once SpaceX confirms the timing of its launch attempt.

SpaceX faces regulatory hurdles to get Starship to orbit

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

SpaceX’s two previous test flights – those of prototypes SN8 and SN9 – were considered successes despite their explosive endings. That’s because they demonstrated that Starship is capable of rocketing to suborbital heights and then controlling its fall.

However, those flights both resulted in FAA investigations, since the agency wanted to determine the cause of the explosions. It turned out that SN8 had fallen victim to low pressure in a propellant tank, which caused the spaceship to fall too fast and slam into its landing pad. An additional issue with that attempt was that SpaceX hadn’t gotten the proper FAA approval, violating its launch license.

This triggered its own investigation, which then held up the SN9 flight. Once that prototype did fly, one of its three Raptor engines failed to relight as the rocket neared the ground.

All those investigations have been closed, an FAA spokesperson told CNN reporter Jackie Wattles. And the launch-license updates for the SN10 flight are approved, according to Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport.

Eventually, SpaceX will want to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a different type of FAA license, but obtaining it means clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. (The environmental impact statement SpaceX previously completed for Boca Chica launches focused on the company’s smaller rockets, rather than its much larger Starship-Super Heavy system.)

The company is now waiting to start that environmental assessment, but depending on the findings, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new impact statement, which could take up to three years. Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document, obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells in Boca Chica to fuel Starships and power plants. Such plans could also affect SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Elon Musk blasted the FAA for canceling a Starship test launch, but the agency said ‘outstanding safety issues’ were at play

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002.

  • SpaceX was ready to attempt a Starship rocket test flight on Thursday, but it couldn’t get clearance from the FAA.
  • Elon Musk criticized the agency on Twitter, saying that with its rules “humanity will never get to Mars,” but the FAA told Insider it was working with SpaceX to “resolve outstanding safety issues.” 
  • On Friday, a new FAA statement and a report from The Verge suggested that the hold-up may be related to the first high-altitude Starship flight, which ended in an explosion and violated SpaceX’s launch license.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX was ready to launch its latest prototype of its Starship rocket about six miles into the air on Thursday.

That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in.

The rocket sat on the launchpad at the company’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, ready for workers to remotely load propellant into its fuel tanks. Local roads were also closed to make way for any explosions, and the company even posted an announcement about the flight on its website. All that SpaceX needed was approval from the FAA.

But the FAA pulled its airspace closure – a requirement for launch – triggering a public complaint by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk against the regulatory agency.

Around 10:50 a.m. CST, the FAA canceled the closure that was meant to make room for the rocket’s launch over the southeastern tip of Texas. About an hour later, the agency issued an advisory that the flight attempt was officially scrubbed.

Musk was none too pleased.

“Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure,” he said on Twitter Thursday afternoon. “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.” (The agency recently streamlined its rocket-launch rules, though that policy shift is not set to take effect until later this year.)

Despite the FAA’s sudden withdrawal of approval, SpaceX nevertheless began loading the Starship prototype with liquid propellant, as if preparing for launch or a “wet” dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, Musk was “working the phones” trying to get the FAA to approve a launch, according to Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger. The agency ultimately did not budge.

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The SN9 Starship prototype during static-fire testing in Boca Chica, Texas, on January 13, 2021.

“We will continue working with SpaceX to resolve outstanding safety issues before we approve the next test flight,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Insider.

It’s unclear what those safety issues were, but Washington Post space reporter Christian Davenport said that the FAA had confirmed the issues were related to the Starship vehicle. Irene Klotz, the space editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology, hinted that a procedural lapse on SpaceX’s part was possibly to blame.

“From what I’ve been told, required data for FAA safety assessment of @SpaceX 10km SN9 flight from Boca Chica was not fully submitted by compliance personnel,” Klotz tweeted Thursday afternoon.

Once the rocket was filled with propellant, there was still no sign of federal approval. So SpaceX began to unload the fuel. Residents of Boca Chica Village then received a notice that it was safe to return to their homes, according to Mary McConaughey, a longtime homeowner who reports for NASASpaceflight.com – confirming SpaceX would not make the day’s launch attempt.

The road to Mars is paved with regulations

The prototype that Musk wanted to launch on Thursday is called Starship serial No. 9, or SN9. Once it gets FAA approval, it’s set to rocket about six miles (10 kilometers) into the air. The first and only time SpaceX attempted such an ambitious Starship flight, in December, the rocket exploded as it landed back on Earth. SN9 will attempt to repeat that test and return in one piece.

The tricky maneuver involves shutting off the rocket’s three Raptor engines as it reaches the peak of flight, then using its four wing flaps to control a belly-flop free-fall back to Earth, reigniting the engines just in time to turn Starship upright and slow its fall, so that it touches down on a landing pad.

Nailing the non-explosive landing is important. Musk wants the final Starship-Super Heavy launch system to be fully reusable. If that plan succeeds, it may slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon.

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An illustration of SpaceX’s planned 39-story Starship rocket system launching from Boca Chica, Texas.

Musk has said that his ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships to carry enough people and cargo to Mars to build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

But he can’t do that without cooperating with regulators like the FAA.

“It’s clear that industry can and wants to do innovative things, ambitious things, impressive things, a lot faster than have been done in the past,” George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, told Insider after Musk tweeted about the FAA. “I’m hoping that the government and industry, with help from academia as appropriate, can all work together to figure out how to do that. I think everyone would benefit if that can be the case.”

The holdup may be related to the SN8 explosion and a license violation

In a new FAA statement emailed to Insider on Friday, the agency disclosed that it is still evaluating modifications to SpaceX’s launch license. That seems to be why it wasn’t ready to approve the SN9 flight this week.

“The FAA will continue to work with SpaceX to evaluate additional information provided by the company as part of its application to modify its launch license,” an FAA spokesperson said in the statement. “While we recognize the importance of moving quickly to foster growth and innovation in commercial space, the FAA will not compromise its responsibility to protect public safety. We will approve the modification only after we are satisfied that SpaceX has taken the necessary steps to comply with regulatory requirements.”

It’s unclear what those modifications are, but based on the new statement, Nield suspects the holdup has something to do with anomalies (like an explosive landing) during the launch of the previous prototype, SN8. SpaceX may not have provided the FAA with a satisfactory report on the incident. It could also be an amendment to the quantity of propellant or the thrust of the engines, he said.

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

“The simplest possibility in my mind is that they didn’t explain what happened on SN8 to the FAA in a formal way and have a ‘roger that’ back,” Nield said.

Separately – and possibly related – SpaceX violated the terms of its launch license during the SN8 test flight, prompting an FAA investigation, journalist Joey Roulette reported for The Verge on Friday. It’s unclear what the violation was, or whether it’s related to the new modifications that seem to be holding up the SN9 flight. 

It’s unknown when SN9 will launch, and the FAA didn’t provide a timeline for its approval process.

SpaceX has announced that it could launch as early as Monday, but the FAA has not issued an airspace closure notice to make way for a rocket launch in the area. The Cameron County Judge has issued road closures in Boca Chica from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Both an airspace closure and road closures are requirements for launch, in addition to the FAA approval.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published at 7:03 p.m. ET on January 28, 2021.

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SpaceX may have purchased 2 oil rigs off the coast of Texas that could be turned into ‘floating’ Starship launchpads

elon musk mars bfr rocket spaceship launch earth launch transportation system youtube
  • SpaceX appears to have acquired two oil rigs that it may transform into launch platforms for its forthcoming Starship rocket system, NASASpaceflight reported
  • The floating “spaceports” would add to SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica, Texas, which are under a new environmental review.
  • Launching rockets from the water should be less disruptive for nearby residents. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

You may know Deimos and Phobos as the names of Mars’ moons. But now they’re also the newly christened names of two oil rigs off the Texas coast. These rigs will likely be transformed into launchpads for SpaceX Starship rockets, NASASpaceflight reported on Tuesday. 

In December 2020, Insider reported that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had moved from California to Texas, an increasingly common trajectory for tech CEOs looking to save on state income taxes.

Since then, Thomas Burghardt and Michael Baylor of NASASpaceflight identified public records showing the August 2020 sale of two oil rigs off the Texas coast from now-bankrupt oil company Valaris. Both rigs sold for $3.5 million, Baylor’s records requests show

NASASpaceflight identified the buyer as Lone Star Mineral Development LLC, which shares executive Bret Johnson with SpaceX. The LLC was incorporated in June of 2020. While SpaceX has yet to confirm it’s involved in the purchase of the oil rigs, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Further fueling that idea is a tweet identified by Baylor that Musk sent in June 2020, a week before the LLC’s incorporation, in which the CEO alluded to building launch ‘floating’ spaceport platforms on the ocean

Back on land, the SpaceX site in Boca Chica previously hosted prototype launches for the company. The first launch of the Starship prototype, which the company hopes will eventually lead to the first commercial spaceflight to Mars, occurred in December 2020. The rocket exploded, Insider reported, but the company still considered the test successful. 

SN9, a new iteration of the prototype, will likely be launched this week, weather permitting. The proposed SN9 launch will be beachside, not on the Phobos and Deimos rigs.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it purchased the oil rigs or any plans for them.

Floating launchpads would offer some distinct advantages over land-based launching sites, such as a decreased risk for those living nearby and less noise.

The future of these potential rigs-turned-launchpads and SpaceX’s Texas operations more broadly is still an open question. In December 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration released a call for public input about the SpaceX launch site in Boca Chica.

Musk has said that he hopes SpaceX will begin sending passenger flights to Mars by 2026. 

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SpaceX may launch and land its newest Starship rocket prototype on Monday. With any luck, it won’t explode.

elon musk sn8 launch test flight
Left: SpaceX founder Elon Musk looks upward during a press briefing on March 2, 2019. Right: SpaceX’s Starship serial No. 8 rocket-ship prototype launches from a pad in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9, 2020.

  • SpaceX is preparing to launch the latest prototype of its Starship spacecraft — a system that could one day carry humans to Mars.
  • The new prototype, called serial No. 9 or SN9, is set to rocket tens of thousands of feet in the air, belly-flop toward the ground, and re-fire its engines to flip upright and land.
  • SpaceX’s first attempt at such a flight with SN8 was successful — save for the Starship slamming into and exploding on the landing pad.
  • SpaceX has permission to launch SN9 as soon as Monday, according to government notices.
  • Several live video feeds should broadcast the launch attempt, so bookmark this page; we’ll embed them closer to launch.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX is preparing to rocket the latest prototype of its Starship spaceship thousands of feet into the air, then attempt to land it gently back on the ground.

If the company can successfully pull off this tricky maneuver – cutting the rocket’s engines back on as it plummets toward Earth, just in time to turn it upright, slow its fall, and steadily set down on a landing pad – it will be the first time a Starship vehicle has ventured so high and returned in one piece.

Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, wants the final Starship-Super Heavy launch system to be fully and rapidly reusable. If Musk’s plan succeeds, Starship may slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon. Musk has said that his ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships that will carry enough people and cargo to Mars to build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

SpaceX last launched a Starship prototype of this kind the first time on December 8. Called Starship serial No. 8, or SN8, roared tens of thousands of feet above the company’s expanding facilities at Boca Chica, Texas. SN8 then tipped its nosecone forward, cut off its engines, and began to plummet. As the vehicle neared the ground in a sideways, belly-flop freefall, it re-fired its engines to flip upright and slow its descent.

However, low pressurize in a propellant tank caused the spaceship to fall too fast, slam into its landing pad, crumple, and catastrophically explode.

SpaceX still considered the seven-minute test flight a success, though, because it was inherently an experiment – and one that flew higher than ever before and performed unprecedented maneuvers. For example, SN8’s flight achieved sequential rocket-engine shutdowns, aerial flips, and a belly flop made stable via wing flaps. (Previous test flights had been “hops,” with prototypes launching a few hundred feet into the air, then landing downrange.)

Now SpaceX is set for another major test flight, and this time it could stick the landing. Like its predecessor, the new prototype, called SN9, is 16 stories tall and powered by three Raptor engines. The SN9 tipped over inside a vertical assembly building on December 11, but SpaceX appeared to make quick repairs and roll it out to a beachside launch pad.

starship sn9 fall spacex boca chica texas
The SN9, fallen over inside the vertical assembly building, December 11, 2020.

In preparation for launch, SpaceX clamped down the SN9 and test-fired its engines three times on Wednesday – a record static-fire rate for the company.

The company seemed prepared to launch this week, but two of the engines needed repairs, Musk tweeted on Thursday. Musk added that he’s hoping SpaceX an speed up the engine-swapping process so that it takes “a few hours at most.”

SpaceX appears to be targeting a Monday launch. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an airspace closure notice for a rocket launch from Boca Chica for that day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST. The FAA issued similar notices for Tuesday and Wednesday – back-up dates in case weather or glitches cause SpaceX to delay the test flight.

Both airspace closure and local road closures are required for launch. The Cameron County judge has issued Boca Chica road-closure notices for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

How to watch SN9’s launch attempt live

starship sn9 prototype spacex boca chica texas
The SN9 during static-fire testing in Boca Chica, Texas, on January 13, 2021.

SpaceX may broadcast the launch attempt live on YouTube. Several online broadcasters, such as NASASpaceFlight.com and LabPadre, also plan to stream live video footage of the flight. We will embed these live feeds below once they’re available.

A series of events typically precedes a Starship prototype launch. A couple of hours beforehand, SpaceX will clear the launch site of personnel. Roughly an hour ahead of flight, storage tanks at the launch site will begin venting gases as SpaceX prepares to fuel Starship with cryogenic fuels. Fueling later causes Starship to vent gases out of its top, signaling that launch could occur within minutes.

Poor weather, a technical glitch, or a boat entering the launch’s danger zone – a new challenge for Starship – could lead to delays.

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