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SpaceX’s Starship rocket set for first major flight test next week

SpaceX is hoping to launch a prototype of its Starship rocket on its first high-altitude flight test next week.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk revealed the news in a tweet on Tuesday, November 24, saying that the mission has been made possible thanks to a recent successful static fire of the current prototype.

“Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km/~50k ft altitude flight next week,” Musk wrote in the tweet, adding:  “Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.”

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 SN8 Starship prototype is of particular interest to space fans as it bears the closest resemblance yet to the expected final design of the rocket. Earlier prototypes, for example, have come without body flaps and a nose cone, but the SN8 will incorporate both.

The SN8 will also be flying higher into the sky than previous prototypes that have been sent on hops of only a few hundred feet before landing back on the ground. Next week’s flight could see the Starship prototype reach an altitude of about 50,000 feet (about 15,000 meters) — that’s about 15,000 feet higher than a passenger plane usually flies.

The technology should also allow the rocket to return to Earth and land upright in the same way that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 boosters have been doing for years. Starship will launch atop the massive first-stage Super Heavy rocket, which will have 31 Raptor engines.

SpaceX will stream the entire flight test live online, though precise timing details are yet to be announced. Digital Trends will let you know just as soon as the information becomes available.

Musk is well aware that next week’s more ambitious test flight could go badly wrong, recently tweeting that it “might be quite a short livestream,” while at the same time promising that whatever happens, his team will be certain to broadcast the entire mission, “warts and all.”

Once it’s fully built and tested, the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket will be a fully reusable space transportation system capable of carrying as many as 100 people and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond. Once in space, Starship will use its six Raptor engines for travel between different destinations.

Musk said recently that if testing goes to plan, an uncrewed Starship mission to Mars could take place in 2024.

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Trevor Mogg
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