Sometime today, SpaceX hopes to conduct a pivotal test flight of its next-generation Starship rocket, flying a prototype of the vehicle to its highest altitude yet. The company plans to launch the massive rocket to a height of nearly 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, up above SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, before landing the vehicle back down on the ground again.
The test is meant to prove out Starship’s capability of launching and landing upright, something the spacecraft will be expected to do both on Earth and on other worlds. SpaceX aims to use Starship to send cargo and people to deep-space destinations like the Moon and Mars. A test like this will help demonstrate Starship’s ability to perform a controlled flight and see if the rocket’s hardware — particularly the three main Raptor engines — functions as expected.
Launch and landing are just part of the test today
Launch and landing are just part of today’s test. On its website, SpaceX claims the Starship prototype will actually perform “a landing flip maneuver, which would be a first for a vehicle of this size.” There aren’t many details about the maneuver publicly available, but it’s a risky test that could easily go wrong, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk only giving the flight a “1/3 chance” of success. SpaceX itself is also deemphasizing the possibility that the test will pull off a perfect launch and landing.
“With a test such as this, success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship,” SpaceX wrote about the flight on its website. But if all goes well, the flight will put the company on course to attempt even more ambitious tests in the future, eventually culminating in Starship’s first launch to orbit.
For this test, SpaceX plans to provide a live stream of the flight, which will go live just ahead of takeoff. However, it’s hard to give a solid time for when that will happen. The Federal Aviation Administration released flight restrictions for the airspace around Boca Chica from 9AM to 6PM ET, and there are flight restrictions in place for Thursday and Friday of this week, too. “The schedule is dynamic and likely to change, as is the case with all development testing,” SpaceX writes.
SpaceX attempted a launch on Tuesday but aborted just a second before liftoff. Now it seems the company is targeting this afternoon for a flight test. The company will provide updates through Twitter, so be sure to follow SpaceX throughout the day to catch a glimpse of this rocket’s flight.
Update December 8th, 5:45PM ET: SpaceX counted all the way down to launch on Tuesday afternoon, but at 1.3 seconds to liftoff, the Raptor engines initiated an abort, and the Starship prototype didn’t take flight. The company will provide updates about its next launch opportunity on its Twitter account.