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SpaceX now set to launch its next Starship prototype Tuesday [Updated]

SN8 very nearly made a safe landing in South Texas in December.
Enlarge / SN8 very nearly made a safe landing in South Texas in December.

Trevor Mahlmann

3:40pm ET Monday: SpaceX began preparations for a launch on Monday, and closed roads leading to the pad in South Texas. However, they ended up not evacuating local residents, indicating there would be no launch attempt on January 25. It is possible that winds at the launch site were too high—gusts near 30mph at the surface were noted.

This now means the company is likely to try again on Tuesday, when roads are scheduled to be closed from 8am to 5pm local time (18:00-23:00 UTC). Winds are forecast to be more favorable at that time.

Original post: It’s finally time to find out whether Starship prototype Serial No. 9 will become SN Fine or SN Nein.

After a series of static fire tests on its latest Starship prototype, SpaceX appears set to launch the full-scale vehicle as early as Monday afternoon from its rocket facility in South Texas. The nominal plan is for the prototype to ascend to an altitude as high as 12.5km, perform a “belly flop” maneuver to simulate bleeding off energy during a return through Earth’s atmosphere, reorient itself, and land near the launch pad.

Only a little more than six weeks have passed since SpaceX conducted a similar test of the SN8 vehicle in South Texas. That flight test went splendidly up until near the end of its flight. However, due to a pressure failure in a fuel tank at the top of the vehicle, the vehicle’s Raptor engines were deprived of the fuel needed to make a soft landing.

So the vehicle made a spectacular crash landing into the pad.

See the fate of SN8.

Fortunately, the wreckage was soon cleared away. And in its nearby factory, SpaceX had the SN9 vehicle almost ready to go. It might have moved to the launch pad sooner, but in mid-December the SN9 prototype leaned over, falling into the wall of its high bay. This necessitated several days of checkouts and flap replacements. Then there were issues with the Raptor engines that were discovered across several static fire attempts. All of this and more required intensive work to ready SN9 for its flight.

Sources have said SpaceX is eager to get SN9 into the sky because SN10 itself is nearly ready to stretch its wings. We can probably expect that vehicle to be moved down the road to the launch site within days of SN9’s flight, regardless of the outcome. Testing often to find the bugs is one feature of a hardware-rich program like the one SpaceX is using to develop Starship.

The six-hour launch window for Monday’s test extends from noon local time (18:00 UTC) to 6pm (24:00 UTC). As with previous tests, a technical issue may cause the test campaign to abort its launch attempt at any point. Should they be needed, SpaceX has backup launch opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday, although weather conditions appear to be more favorable for Tuesday.

It’s likely that SpaceX will provide an official webcast of the launch attempt; if so, it will be embedded here.

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