A 50,000-foot (15 kilometer) hop for SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype, SN8, may be on the horizon. The upcoming test flight will take Elon Musk’s future Mars rocket to its highest height yet.
This week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a temporary flight restriction to SpaceX, signaling the company has the go-ahead to conduct its long-awaited hop. The prototype vehicle could launch from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas test facility this Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST. You can watch a live stream of the launch below.
SpaceX conducted two 150-meter hop tests from the Texas facility in August and September. Both flights, which tested the mettle of Starship prototypes SN5 and SN6, respectively, were powered by just one of the company’s signature Raptor engines. SN8’s upcoming flight will test the performance of three Raptor engines together. (Ultimately, the Super Heavy booster that’s slated to lift the rocket to Mars will have a whopping 35 of these engines.)
This flight will also take a Starship prototype to the very edge of space for the first time. That means SpaceX’s teams will be able to perform a series of tests they haven’t previously been able to. In addition to testing the body flaps, Ars Technica reports, the flight will also test the vehicle’s ability to switch propellant tanks and properly orient itself during the landing.
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SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk said at an awards ceremony last week that he’d like to put boots on the Martian surface by 2026. It’s a lofty goal, to be sure.
If the company keeps up with this rigorous testing schedule, however, that goal may begin to feel a little less lofty after all. According to SpaceX enthusiasts on the ground in Boca Chica, prototypes SN9 through 15 are in various states of construction.
Last week, Musk tweeted that the rocket has a “1/3 chance” of landing in one piece. There’s a lot that could go wrong, but at least the weather conditions look good for a possible launch this week. When SN8 eventually does lift off the pad, it’ll be one heck of a hop.
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