SpaceX is gearing up for the fifth test flight of its next-generation Starship rocket.
As part of pre-launch procedures to ensure everything is working as it should, the Starship SN15 prototype briefly fired its three Raptor engines while anchored to the ground at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on Monday, April 26. You can watch the static fire below.
STATIC FIRE! Starship SN15 fires up for the first time. There will be a data review to check performance.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) April 26, 2021
A short while later, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that following the static fire, the team is now preparing to launch the prototype rocket “later this week.” Like the previous tests, the mission will last around six-and-a-half minutes and see the rocket climb to an altitude of 6.2 miles before performing a mid-air flip in preparation for an upright landing.
Starship SN15 static fire completed, preparing for flight later this week
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2021
All four of SpaceX’s previous Starship test flights ended in fireballs with the rocket exploding upon landing, or, as in one case, several minutes after touching down.
While the test flights have produced a lot of useful data for the team, it will be keen to score a success with its fifth attempt in five months by landing the Starship prototype in one piece, without the fireworks.
When SpaceX finally has Starship launching and landing in the same way as its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, the California-based company is planning to deploy it as the second-stage booster — and also as a spacecraft — atop the awesome first-stage Super Heavy rocket, powered by more than 30 Raptor engines. The combined height of the two stages will be 120 meters.
The first Super Heavy prototype, BN1, will likely undertake ground testing only. BN2, on the other hand, is set to become the first Super Heavy to take flight, though SpaceX is yet to announce any specific dates for the first Super Heavy tests.
The company’s upcoming goals include the first orbital flight using a Super Heavy prototype and Starship prototype by July 1, though that date appears likely to slip. At the latest, SpaceX wants to achieve the first test flight using both stages by the end of 2021.
Looking further ahead, SpaceX plans to deploy the Starship and Super Heavy rocket as a reusable system to carry as many as 100 people and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.
A Japanese billionaire has already booked seats aboard the Starship for a fly-by of the moon in a mission that’s tentatively scheduled for launch in 2023.