SpaceX is gearing up for the second high-altitude flight test of its next-generation Starship rocket.
As part of preflight preparations, the commercial space transportation company fired up the SN9 prototype’s three Raptor engines a total of three times at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon.
With SN9 expected to head skyward in the coming days, SpaceX is making sure the rocket is in full working order before the test flight.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk tweeted that the three tests took place with the rocket “held down by massive pins,” adding later that the static fires finished without any issues.
Starship SN9 Static Fire (THIRD of the day!)
Hopefully we'll get some word all went well today and they can launch this week!
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 13, 2021
The Starship prototype’s first high-altitude flight test took place in December 2020, sending the rocket to an altitude of around 40,000 feet — similar to that of a commercial passenger jet.
As planned, its engines cut out to allow it to descend back to Earth. The plan was for a gentle landing similar to how SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets return, but its speed of descent was too fast and the prototype exploded in a spectacular fireball when it hit the ground harder than it could handle.
Still, Musk was pleased with the overall effort, tweeting shortly after: “We got all the data we needed!” adding, “Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!”
Now all eyes are on whether SpaceX can bring the Starship down gently enough to avoid another fireworks show.
When the technology is fully developed, SpaceX plans to launch Starship — which acts as a spacecraft as well as a second-stage booster — atop the massive first-stage Super Heavy rocket that’s powered by 31 Raptor engines.
The long-term goal is to use the Starship and Super Heavy rocket as a fully reusable space transportation system carrying as many as 100 people and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.
In October, Musk said an uncrewed round trip to Mars could take place as soon as 2024, though like so many space-related plans, that date could well slip.
Initial Starship testing over the last couple of years involved more basic prototypes being subjected to various pressure tests, and so-called “hop” tests that sent the vehicle several hundred feet into the air before landing back on the ground with varying degrees of success.
There’s no confirmation yet on the date of the next Starship flight, but we’ll be sure to post about it as soon as we learn more.