It's been less than a week since SpaceX's epic Starship SN10 rocket landing (and subsequent explosion) and the company is already gearing up for another test flight.
The latest Starship incarnation, the SN11 prototype, rolled out to its test stand Monday (March 8) at SpaceX's proving grounds near Boca Chica Village in South Texas ahead of an upcoming launch. It is expected to launch on SpaceX's fourth high-altitude Starship flight soon.
Video from the tourism website Spadre.com and other Starship watchers showed the towering SN11 rocket (its name is short for Serial Number 11) being hauled out to its launch site and placed atop its test stand with a huge crane. The rocket stands about 165-foot-tall (50 meters) tall and is powered by three of SpaceX's Raptor rocket engines.
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Starship SN11 is the latest in a family of huge rocket prototypes built by SpaceX to test systems required for its massive Starship and Super Heavy rockets, the core of a new fully reusable launch system the company hopes to use for trips to the moon, Mars and beyond.
On March 3, SpaceX launched its Starship SN10 vehicle to an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and managed to land the vehicle, though the rocket exploded shortly after touchdown. That mission followed two earlier flights, by Starships SN9 and SN8, respectively, that also managed to launch to their target heights, but failed to stick their landings. Both SN8 and SN9 exploded in massive fireballs during their landing attempts.
SpaceX has made incremental tweaks and upgrades to its Starship design after each test flight as it works to perfect the new launch system. The company has said that each Starship will be able to carry up to 110 tons (100 tons) to low Earth orbit.
NASA has picked SpaceX's Starship as one of three candidates to potentially land astronauts and hardware on the moon under the agency's Artemis program. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked a flight around the moon on SpaceX's Starship for himself and eight other passengers. Last week, Maezawa announced a public contest to win those eight seats for his "dearMoon" mission.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.