SpaceX is the latest Star ship the prototype ignited an incredible three times today (January 13th), apparently keeping the vehicle on the test flight at high altitude in the near future.
The three-engined vehicle SN9 conducted its second, third and fourth tests for “static fire” in rapid succession today (January 13th) at SpaceX’s facilities in South Texas, near the village of Boca Chica in the coastal bay. The engines lit briefly at 13:28 EST (1828 GMT), again at 15:22 EST (2022 GMT) and then again at 16:36 EST (2136 GMT).
During static fires, the engines ignite briefly while the vehicle remains attached to the ground. The SN9 already had one such test under its belt, like ended a brief static fire on January 6th.
Star ship and super heavy: SpaceX̵
“All three static fires are over and there is no RUD!” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter this afternoon. (RUD stands for “quick unplanned disassembly,” Musk’s preferred euphemism for “explosion.”)
“Detanking and inspections now. Good progress to our “Enter and go to Mars! “Naked,” he added in another tweet.
Detanking and inspections now. Good progress to our “Hop in & go to Mars!” Goal. January 13, 2021
These tests are part of the preparations for the launch of SN9, which will rise in the sky in the coming days or weeks, if everything goes according to plan. The flight of the SN9 is expected to be similar to that carried out last month by its predecessor, the SN8, which jumped about 12.5 kilometers into the skies of South Texas.
SN8 is no more; it descended too quickly and exploded in its designated landing area. But the vehicle checked almost all the other boxes, prompting SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk to announce the test mission on December 9 – the first high-altitude flight for the Starship vehicle – exciting success.
SpaceX develops Starship to take people and payloads to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. The transport system consists of two reusable elements: a 165-foot (50-meter) spacecraft called Starship, and a giant rocket known as the Super Heavy.
Both Starship and Super Heavy will be powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine. The latest Starship will include six Raptors, Musk said, and the Super Heavy will include about 30 of the engines.
Starship will be powerful enough to launch from the moon and Mars, but will need the help of Super Heavy to descend from our much more massive planet. (Once in Earth orbit, Super Heavy will return to Earth for a vertical landing, ideally directly on the starting stand.)
Musk has set an ambitious schedule for Starship, saying the system should start launching people to Mars by 2026, and he can even do it in 2024 “if we’re lucky.” So expect tests in South Texas to increase significantly in the coming months and years.
We could see one or two more static fires before SN9 went up. After all, SN8 carried out four static fires for about a month before taking off. Such tests are closely monitored by Starship observers, such as the tourist site Spadre.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:20 PM EST on January 13 to include the news of the third static fire of the day.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.