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SpaceX Starship prototype is almost ready for its big high-altitude test

SpaceX is almost ready for the next big test of its Starship SN9 prototype: The high-altitude test, in which the rocket will fire its engines and rise into the air for the first time. Previous high-altitude tests have seen Starship prototypes fly as high as almost 8 miles off the ground, although the last test ended in a fireball when the SN8 prototype hit the ground and was destroyed.

Since then, the company has been working on testing its newer SN9 prototype. With a fifth static fire test of the SN9 performed on Friday, January 22, in which the engines were fired by the prototype remained tethered to the ground, everything should now be ready for the next portion of testing to occur soon.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared an image of the SN9 prototype undergoing its static fire test on Twitter, showing the dramatic billows of smoke and flame around the prototype as it fired its engines:

SN9 pic.twitter.com/kwTVwM7MBn

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 22, 2021

Last week, SpaceX performed three static fire tests on the prototype, and observers were hoping that the company would be able to perform its high-altitude test that weekend. But two of the engines used in those tests needed slight repairs and had to be swapped out before more tests could be carried out.

Performing engine swaps used to be a lengthy process, but SpaceX seems to have become more efficient at it and was able to replace the engines in a few days. Now, with the new engines installed and tested, the prototype is ready for its big test soon.

This means the SN9 high-altitude test could go ahead as early as this Monday, January 25, according to space.com.

The aim of SpaceX is to create a heavy lift vehicle that can be used to carry cargo and passengers to the moon and eventually to Mars. The rocket will be powered by Raptor engines which use liquid methane and liquid oxygen as fuel rather than the kerosene which is used by the Merlin engines found in the company’s current rocket, the Falcon 9. The Starship aims to be a fully reusable craft that can take off and land vertically, which would make reuse more efficient and would potentially allow fast turnaround times between launches and landings.

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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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