SpaceX fires up Starship SN15 prototype to prep for test flight

SpaceX's latest Starship prototype has roared to life. 

The company performed the first "static fire" test on Starship SN15 Monday (April 26) at 5:57 p.m. EDT (2157 GMT). The stainless-steel vehicle's three Raptor engines ignited briefly while the craft remained anchored to the ground at SpaceX's South Texas site, near the Gulf Coast hamlet of Boca Chica Village.

But SN15 (short for "Serial No. 15") won't remain ground-bound for long. Today's static fire was a key checkout ahead of a high-altitude test flight, which will take the vehicle about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) into the Texas skies soon — likely sometime this week.

Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy rocket in pictures

SN15 will be the fifth Starship prototype to attempt this flight in less than five months. The other four all flew well until the very end, failing to stick the landing and ending up in pieces. 

SpaceX is developing Starship to get people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations.  The final system will consist of a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) spacecraft called Starship, which NASA recently picked as the moon lander for its crewed Artemis program, and a giant first-stage booster known as Super Heavy.

Both elements will be fully and rapidly reusable, potentially slashing the cost of spaceflight dramatically, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.

SpaceX expects Starship and Super Heavy to be up and running soon; Musk recently said he thinks the final system will be fully operational by 2023.

Today's static fire came just three days after the launch of Crew-2, SpaceX's second operational crewed mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Four astronauts rode to the orbiting lab aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which launched Friday (April 23) on a Falcon 9 rocket — an entirely different spaceflight system than Starship.

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. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.