SpaceX has just started the engine of its latest Starship prototype, paving the way for a test flight in the near future.
The company conducted a “static fire” test of Starship SN5 today (July 30), releasing its single Raptor engine ignite while the vehicle remains attached to the ground at SpaceX facilities in South Texas, near the village of Boca Chica.
The successful experiment apparently won the SN5 stainless steel, a test version of SpaceX’s “Starship” spacecraft, a chance to slip its leash.
“Starship SN5 has just completed a full-length static fire. Speed of 1
Connected: The spaceship SpaceX and the Super Heavy Mars rocket in photos
SpaceX is moving towards the final design of Starship through a series of SN prototypes. Most of the SN5 precursors were lost at some point in the testing process, either during pressure tests or static fires. SN4, for example, exploded during a static fire on May 30, the fifth such test for the prototype.
But it seems SpaceX is reluctant to put the SN5 to so many engine tests. If Musk’s tweet is a guide, the vehicle could rise to about 500 feet (150 meters) in the skies of South Texas in the next few days.
Only one prototype of Starship has made such an unattached flight to date: the stubborn Starhopper, an early variant that was retired after boarding several hundred feet from the ground in August 2019.
The final version of the Starship will include six Raptor engines, about 50 feet high and capable of carrying up to 100 people, Musk said. The spacecraft will launch a giant rocket called the Super Heavy, which will be powered by 31 of its own Raptors.
Starship and Super Heavy will be reusable, Musk said. The billionaire entrepreneur envisions the duo eventually meeting all of SpaceX’s needs, from launching satellites into Earth orbit to transporting passengers to the moon, Mars and beyond.
The space flight system can start and work quickly if testing and development go well. SpaceX officials said the first Starship / Super Heavy missions – possibly launching commercial communications satellites – could come as early as 2021.
Mike Wall is the author of Out of There (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.