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SpaceX is set to launch the latest prototype of the next-generation Starship rocket on Wednesday, with a high-altitude flight that represents the company’s most ambitious test to date.
The prototype of the No. 8 serial ship (SN8) will aim to fly up to 12.5 kilometers, or about 41,000 feet. This is significantly higher than the 500-meter flight test pair that SpaceX completed with the SN5 and SN6 prototypes earlier this year.
The experiment follows a day after SpaceX almost launched the rocket, but was stopped shortly after a problem caused by the last-second engine. The company has since reverted to another attempt.
Namely, the purpose of the SN8 flight is not necessarily to reach maximum altitude, but to test several key components of the Starship system.
“This suborbital flight is designed to test a range of objectives, from the performance of the vehicle’s three Raptor engines to the vehicle’s overall aerodynamic entry capabilities (including body wings), to control the vehicle’s powertrain transition. The SN8 attempts to perform a landing flip maneuver for a vehicle of this size, ”says SpaceX in a statement on its website.
Given the company’s many development milestones with its SN8 flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave the rocket a low chance of total success on its first attempt.
“A lot of things have to go well, so maybe a 1/3 chance,” Musk said.
The Starship SN8 is made of stainless steel, and the prototypes represent an early version of the rocket unveiled by Musk last year. The company is developing Starship with the goal of launching cargo and sending up to 100 people to the Moon and Mars at once.
While the fleet of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missiles is partially reusable, Musk aims to make Starship completely reusable – imagining a missile more like a commercial aircraft with short lead times between flights where the only major cost is fuel.
The company is building and testing Starship prototypes at its growing facility in Boca Chicago, Texas. The facility is located on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 miles east of the Texas city of Brownsville on the Mexican border.
The prototype of the Starship SN8 rocket is on the launch pad of the SpaceX facility in Boca Chicago, Texas, on November 10, 2020.
SpaceX also noted that it conducted more than 16,000 seconds — nearly four and a half hours in total — of testing with the Raptor propulsion program, which was developed to power Starship.
Three of SpaceX’s three Raptor engines are at the base of the Starship rocket.
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