SpaceX Prepares Starship SN8 For Launch, But Elon Musk Gives 1-in-3 Chance Of Landing Intact

KEY POINTS

  • Starship prototypes SN5 and SN6 completed short hop tests in earlier this year
  • Elon Musk said a lot of things need to go right with this launch
  • Starship’s orbital launch will not be before 2021

Elon Musk revealed on Tuesday that SpaceX could launch its latest Starship prototype as early as “next week.” 

The Serial Number 8 Starship prototype, also called SN8, has already passed a test firing of its three engines. In its next launch, SpaceX is hoping the rocket will reach an altitude of around 50,000 feet, which would be quite a liftoff considering both the SN5 and SN6 flights only reached 500 feet.

For Musk, the Starship mission has become SpaceX’s main focus, following the successful launch of four astronauts into space in its Crew Dragon capsule earlier this month.

Musk has said that the Starship mission needs to be pushed forward “dramatically and immediately,” CNBC reported.

In a tweet, Musk said, “Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, the transition from main to header tanks and landing flip.”

When asked about the chances of the rocket landing intact, Musk said he expects only a 1/3 chance of controlled landing. So a lot needs to go right in this launch.

In a two-engine static fire test on November 13, the SN8 nearly avoided catastrophe due to a damaged Raptor, which was later replaced. Following this, a successful static fire test was carried out on Tuesday, which cleared the rocket for this launch, according to a report.

On account of his low expectations of a successful and intact landing, Musk said, “that is why we have SN9 and SN10.” These prototypes are already under development in SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas. They have been fitted with small improvements as well as “major upgrades.” Work has already begun on SN15, the next prototype, and possibly the SN16, the report noted.

It is not clear why, with such low odds, SpaceX is willing to spend time and resources on the SN8 launch, when advanced models with upgrades are already underway in the Boca Chica facility.

If this launch is successful, SpaceX will be closer to its aim of sending cargo and as many as 100 people to the moon and Mars in Starship flights. Musk wants Starship rockets to be completely reusable and very similar to commercial airplanes.

He had given the program an aggressive deadline of 2020 to start flying people to space. But he later said there needs to be hundreds of successful test flights before that happens, to ensure the complete safety of prospective travelers.

The company will not conduct Starship’s first orbital test before 2021.

On Tuesday, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9, whose booster was reused for a record seventh time, to add 60 more satellites to its low-Earth orbit constellation as part of its Starlink mission.

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