Elon Musk’s latest prototype of the planned Starship has been completed at SpaceX’s development facility in Boca Chica, Texas,media CNET reported. The SN8 looks more like an actual rocket than previous iterations, and it may be the first rocket to conduct an actual high-altitude test, although Musk quickly lowered expectations.
Previous versions have successfully made several brief “jumps” at altitudes of nearly 500 feet (150 meters) and then controlled landings not far from the take-off point. Now Musk wants to fly the SN8 more than 9 miles (15 kilometers) above sea level, but he doesn’t guarantee it will stay away from the launch pad.
“It is also possible to have RUD (rapid unst planned dismantling, i.e. explosion) outside the launch pad. Fortunately, the SN9 is almost ready. Musk tweeted Saturday.
Some of the previous prototypes exploded during ground tests, but so far SpaceX has had encouraging success with a handful of tentative short test flights over the past two years. SN6 successfully carried out a short-distance “jump” in September. But similarly, Musk is not convinced that SN8 will stick to its first landing attempt. “If it fails in the end, some repairs will need to be made to the landing platform to fill the hole.” SpaceX founder tweeted.
However, if the SN8 is destroyed in its flight attempts, this is not necessarily considered a failure. Whatever happens, any data collected will be used to iterate later versions, and there are likely to be many more before the starship is finally able to enter orbit. Musk said small changes would be made to each new prototype, at least until the SN20.
It is unclear when the SN8 will attempt its first flight and landing. Although the seemingly fully formed “Starship” has already appeared in Boca Chica, more tests are needed on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an airspace closure for the area around the test facility, which will remain in effect for the rest of the year, but only for the 1,800-foot (549-meter) range, and is therefore a safety precaution for ground testing, not the actual test flight itself.
Whenever the next big flight attempt comes, Musk promises to broadcast the whole process live and “at a glance.” “You’ll see every frame we do,” Musk said.