In the annals of history, “SN8” may be a nickname that many space fans enjoy watching.
Next week, Elon Musk says his company SpaceX will try to launch its prototype Starship rocket ̵
Called SN8 or serial number 8, this will be the first flight of a Starship prototype with an attached nose cone on top, giving it a more complete look.
The launch will take place from Boca Chica in Texas, the SpaceX development and testing site for his Starship car.
He had previously flown more primitive prototypes of Starship without a cone on the nose of short hops, up to 150 meters in the air, before returning them to landing.
However, the flight of the SN8 will be a completely different beast.
So far, Starship prototypes have flown with only one of Raptor’s innovative engines on board. Meanwhile, the SN8 will be the first to fly with three.
It will aim to reach a height of 15 kilometers before turning and descending first on the abdomen, simulating what the future return from orbit might look like.
“The goals are to test three engine climbs, body covers, transition from main to header and landing tank,” Musk wrote on Twitter earlier this week after a successful static rocket fire test.
However, the landing of the vehicle is not guaranteed. “A lot of things have to go right, so maybe a 1/3 chance,” Musk added in a later tweet. “But that’s why we have SN9 and SN10.”
SpaceX, which released humans for NASA for the second time earlier this month, made no secret of the fact that fast iterations of Starship, built quickly and with increasing complexity, have a significant degree of failure in each test.
In fact, several prototypes of Starship have failed. SN3 collapsed in a pressure test in April 2020, SN4 exploded in May 2020 after its own static fire test, and even SN8 had problems.
But the company hopes that rapid prototyping will be the best way to make this ambitious rocket a reality.
Starship, which will be launched on top of a reusable booster known as the Super Heavy, will be the most powerful rocket in history with a height of 70 meters.
SpaceX wants to use it first to make it easier to launch its controversial mega constellation Starlink. While the company’s existing Falcon 9 rocket can launch 60 Starlink satellites in flight, Starship can launch hundreds.
Ultimately, however, the goal is to use Starship and Super Heavy to send humans to Mars and potentially other destinations in the solar system as well.
The company is far from achieving this goal. But if it can prove that a full-scale Starship vehicle can fly and return to Earth as intended, it will take a big step toward it.
Eventually, perhaps next year, the company hopes to reach orbit for the first time with a subsequent prototype of Starship.
But first we will see that the Star Ship flies 15 kilometers, turns and descends first with its belly back to Earth. Whether it’s SN8 next week, or SN9 or SN10 at a later date, it’s sure to be a landmark.