SpaceX just fired up its latest Starship prototype, keeping the vehicle on track for a high-altitude test flight this week.
The three Raptor engines of Starship SN11 ("Serial No. 11") ignited briefly today (March 22) at 9:56 a.m. EDT (1356 GMT) during a static fire test at SpaceX's South Texas facilities, near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica.
Static fire tests, during which engines are lit while a vehicle remains anchored to the ground, are a standard preflight checkout for SpaceX rockets. SN11's upcoming flight will take the stainless-steel vehicle to a maximum altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). That uncrewed jaunt could happen as early as Wednesday (March 24), according to scheduled road closures in the Boca Chica area.
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SpaceX is developing Starship to carry people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. The architecture consists of two reusable components — a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) spacecraft called Starship and a giant first-stage booster known as Super Heavy. Both vehicles will be powered by Raptor engines — six for Starship and about 30 for Super Heavy.
Three Starship prototypes have already taken to the skies on high-altitude test flights in the last few months. SN8 and SN9 performed very well until touchdown, exploding when they hit the landing pad. SN10, which flew on March 3, did even better: The prototype landed in one piece but exploded about eight minutes later.
SpaceX will soon start putting Super Heavy through its paces as well. Last week, company founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled the first-ever Super Heavy, which he described as a "production pathfinder." The next Super Heavy that SpaceX builds will actually fly, the billionaire entrepreneur said.
We should expect lots of Starship and Super Heavy tests in the coming weeks and months. Musk recently said that SpaceX aims to launch an orbital test flight with Starship this year, and that he expects the spaceship-rocket duo to be fully operational by 2023.
SpaceX first tried to light up Starship SN11 last Monday (March 15), but that static fire attempt was aborted.
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.