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New SpaceX Starship prototype will fly to a height of 60,000 feet

Elon Musk has announced plans for the next phase of testing of the SpaceX Starship, which may be ready in as little as a week.

A new Starship prototype, the SN8, is generating particular interest among space fans due to its external form. Unlike previous prototypes which were essentially steel cylinders, the SN8 will have body flaps and a nosecone, meaning it will look recognizably like the striking Starship design that Musk unveiled this time last year.

Musk also shared on Twitter that the company plans to perform a test hop flight of up to 60,000 feet (18,000 meters), considerably higher than previous prototypes that have made hops of a few hundred meters.

SN8 Starship with flaps & nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60,000 ft & back.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2020

SpaceX has worked its way through a number of Starship prototypes during development. Quite a few have been destroyed in testing, often with dramatic results. But now, the company has two working prototypes to test on: SN5 and SN6. The SN5 made its hop test at the start of August, and the SN6 made a hope test earlier this month at the start of September. With two working prototypes, the company has more options for testing and won’t have to wait to build a new one should one be destroyed.

There will be some similarities in the testing processes between these earlier prototypes and the new SN8. The static fire test, for example, is where the rocket is brought out to the launch pad and filled with fuel as if for a real launch. But the rocket remains held on the ground by a mount, so when the engine fires, the rocket doesn’t move. This allows the engineers to check issues such as the flow of fuel and the temperatures and pressures in the system.

A notable difference between these earlier prototypes and the planned testing for the SN8, however, is the height achieved during flight. In the hop tests performed on the SN5 and SN6, the craft rose a few hundred meters into the air before coming back down to Earth. The SN8, on the other hand, will perform a much more challenging test of rising all the way to 60,000 feet, according to Musk.

We’ll keep you updated on the testing progress of the SN8 which will hopefully begin testing soon.

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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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