Starship launches have become a regular occurrence at SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. For the second time this month, the company is preparing to fly an advanced prototype of its next spaceship.
Called Starship serial No. 11, or SN11, the prototype could launch as early as Friday. It’s set to roar tens of thousands of feet into the air, shut off its engines, flip sideways, then freefall back to Earth. Four wing flaps should control the rocket’s fall, and its engines should re-fire just in time to flip it upright and lower it to the landing pad.
SpaceX has launched three such high-altitude test flights already, but each ended with a catastrophic explosion. The first two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speed and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later.
All these prototypes represent the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. The whole system is meant to be fully and rapidly reusable, which could enable SpaceX to slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars and establish a Martian settlement.
SpaceX may try to fly and land SN11 this weekend. First, it has to conduct a new static fire test, clamping down the rocket and test-firing its engines. Earlier this week, the prototype’s first static fire revealed that one of the Raptor engines needed to be replaced, so it has to try again before launch.
In a unique twist, documentation from the Federal Aviation Administration indicates that SpaceX will try to conduct the static fire on Friday, then reload the engines and fly SN11 before the day is over. The company has until 7:30 p.m. CT — when a local road closure ends — to accomplish this dual feat.
Watch the Starship prototype fly live
SpaceX is expected to broadcast the test flight live, as it did with the last three. That livestream will be embedded below once it becomes available. In the meantime, a few fans of the company are broadcasting from the launch facilities.
NASASpaceflight offers broadcasts with multiple high-quality camera views and input from a group of knowledgeable commentators.
For a more distant view of the launch site — broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away — check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.
The FAA has issued an airspace closure over the area, with further closures on Saturday and Sunday — backup dates in case SpaceX misses the Friday launch window. Both air and road closures are required for launch.
However, these closures can be rescheduled if SpaceX is not ready to fly. Ahead of the SN9 flight, new closures were posted week after week before SpaceX made any launch attempt. We will update this post once SpaceX confirms a launch date for SN11.