SpaceX plans high-altitude test flight for its SN8 starship next week
TL;DR: SpaceX’s SN8 starship ran a successful static fire on Tuesday, testing its engines for a record-setting 50,000 ft launch next week. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, suggests a conservative one-in-three chance of a successful landing after launch, but maintained optimism for future launches using the valuable data they will collect.
Tuesday evening saw SpaceX’s fourth static fire of their SN8 prototype starship. The test was short and sweet but reportedly very successful. This sets up the private space travel firm nicely for an important test flight next week.
Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week. Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2020
The proposed launch will test the SN8 starship’s “3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flap,” wrote Elon Musk in a tweet yesterday. The test height of the launch will be record-setting, reaching 50,000 ft. The prior record, another hop test, reached merely 500 ft, so this would be a marked improvement if it proves successful.
When asked on Twitter if the starship will land successfully after launch, Musk replied with a low-ball, one-in-three chance. “Lot of things need to go right,” he replied, “but that’s why we have SN9 & SN10.”
Many small improvements, but overall similar. Wiring is more robust, engines are more mature, nosecone is sealed better, etc.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 25, 2020
Perhaps pre-emptively, he even followed up with, “Major upgrades are slated for SN15.”
Three previous static fires have occurred since October 20, the third of which shattered sections of the launch pad and required further testing. This week’s launch will indeed be a test flight where the data from a failed landing would be used correctively on follow-up flights. A successful launch-and-land would be exciting to see, so let’s hope that a combination of good weather and SpaceX’s preparation bears fruit.