On Thursday morning, SpaceX will attempt a high altitude test of SN15 — the first of the next generation of Starship prototypes. You can watch the launch live right here.
The window for Tuesday’s launch opened at 1:00 p.m. EDT (3:00 am AEST), and it will close at 9:00 p.m. EDT (11:00 am AEST). We don’t know the exact time for the high-altitude hop and attempting landing, but we’ll update this post once we learn more. You can watch the launch at any of the live feeds provided below.
There’s added pressure on the Starship tests given that NASA has asked SpaceX to build a lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon. Well, to be fair, the contract is now on hold as both Blue Origin and Dynetics have formally protested NASA’s decision, requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review.
According to the latest plan, a future version of Starship will be sent to lunar orbit, where it will await rendezvous with an Orion capsule carrying the Artemis astronauts. Once the astronauts are on board, the rocket will make a vertical landing on the Moon, and then return the team back to Orion once they complete their explorations on the lunar surface.
As is the pattern for high-altitude tests, the rocket won’t go into space, instead reaching a maximum height of around 6 miles (10 kilometers). The Raptor engines will shut down in sequence, followed by an aerodynamic descent. The SN15 prototype will then attempt a vertical landing at SpaceX’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. To date, no Starship prototype has survived the landing, though SN10 came very close (it exploded several minutes after an awkward landing).
Should a launch occur, it will mark the fifth high-altitude test of a Starship prototype, the previous being SN8, SN9, SN10, and SN11. SpaceX has decided to skip ahead a little bit and jump right into SN15. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk declared in a late March tweet that the new version features “hundreds of design improvements across structures” involving flight software and the Raptor engine.
After this latest generation of Starship rockets gets tested, SpaceX will then turn to the SN20+ series, which will be capable of going into orbit, but these vehicles “will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact,” added Musk.
SpaceX plans to use Starship as a vehicle to transport cargo and passengers to Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. The rocket is meant to work either as an independent rocket or as the second stage of a reusable launch system.