SpaceX has fired up the latest prototype of its Starship Mars-colonizing spacecraft, keeping the vehicle on track for a possible test flight this weekend.
The SN6 Starship prototype's single Raptor engine briefly roared to life during a "static fire" trial yesterday (Aug. 23) at SpaceX's facilities in South Texas, near the village of Boca Chica.
Static fires, which test rocket engines while the vehicle remains tethered to the ground, are common precursors to launch. And SpaceX intends to send the SN6 on a 500-foot-high (150 meters) uncrewed jaunt soon — as early as this weekend, if road closure notifications in the Boca Chica area are any guide.
SN6's predecessor, SN5, made such a flight earlier this month. SN5 is currently being refurbished in preparation for additional flights, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
These tests will help pave humanity's way to Mars, if all goes according to plan. SpaceX is developing Starship to help colonize the Red Planet, a long-held goal of Musk's.
The final transportation architecture will consist of two parts: a 165-foot-tall (50 m) spacecraft, known as Starship, and a giant rocket called Super Heavy that will launch the vehicle off Earth. Both will be completely and rapidly reusable, and both will be powered by Raptor engines — six on the passenger spacecraft and 31 on Super Heavy.
SpaceX is iterating toward the final Starship vehicle through the SN prototypes. For example, the SN8 version, which is already under construction, will sport three Raptors and will fly much higher than SN5 and SN6 — eventually, all the way up to 12 miles (20 kilometers) above Earth's surface, if all goes according to plan.
Musk and SpaceX want the final Starship and Super Heavy to start flying in earnest relatively soon. For example, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked the duo for a round-the-moon voyage, with a target launch date of 2023. Starship is also a candidate to land NASA astronauts on the moon in 2024, as part of the agency's Artemis lunar-exploration program.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.