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SpaceX needs to swap two engines out of Starship prototype before test flight

This week, SpaceX performed no less than three static fire tests on the latest prototype of the Starship, a heavy launch vehicle designed to carry astronauts from Earth to the moon and eventually even to Mars. But testing and development is a slow process, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed that the company needs to swap out two of the prototype’s engines before moving on to its big test in which the rocket takes to the air.

On Wednesday, January 13, the Starship SN9 prototype was put through its paces in three tests in which the rocket’s engines were fired but the prototype remained pinned to the ground. The three tests were successful, with Musk tweeting happily that the SpaceX team had gathered all of the data they needed from the test.

The hope among SpaceX watchers was that this meant the prototype would soon be ready for a high-altitude hop test, in which the engines are fired and the prototype rises from the ground and high into the air before returning to Earth.

However, it looks like we will have to wait a little longer to see that hop test happen for the SN9. Musk said on Twitter that two of the Starship’s Raptor engines needed “slight repairs” and would have to be switched out with new engines before the next round of tests can go ahead.

Two of the engines need slight repairs, so will be switched out

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 15, 2021

Engine swaps in the past have been lengthy affairs, taking up to several weeks. But the good news for those keen to see the SN9 fly is that Musk also shared that the company was making “major improvements” to the engine swap process and that the aim is for the process to take “a few hours at most.” This news does mean that the new engines will likely need to be tested in another static fire test before the hop test can go ahead.

The hop test of the previous prototype, SN8, ended in a dramatic fireball when it landed hard on the ground. However, it did perform its belly flop descent maneuver and Musk confirmed that the team gathered all of the data they needed before it was destroyed.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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