Perhaps just two or so minutes away from ignition, the SpaceX Starship prototype SN9 dropped its third triple Raptor static fire attempt late into the test window on January 12th.
Already expanded from kl. 17 CST (UTC-6) to kl. 20 CST, SpaceX first really started clearing the test facilities near the original end of the window and began loading its second fully assembled Starship with liquid oxygen and methane propellant around 7 or 7: 30.00. Kl. At 19.58, a local sheriff issued a police siren to warn all local residents or workers of an impending test – necessary in the event of an explosion (“overpressure event”
Now a well-worn, well-known process for unofficial Starship supporters, the siren serves (albeit imprecisely) as an approximate T-10 minute marker for any kind of dangerous test. Hoping to correct two previously failed static fire attempts, the Starship SN9 could possibly have done so only 2-3 minutes away from another ignition before an unknown issue caused SpaceX ground controls or Starship itself to trigger an interruption.
With its head in the form of a large, simultaneous vent that releases pressure from Starship SN9’s methane and oxygen tanks, abortions are an equally well-known event for those who have been following the last year or two. Starships may have taken some spectacular leaps forward in 2020, but the program and the prototypes it currently produces are still relatively immature and, in other words, not exactly refined, polished end products.
In 2020 alone, the SpaceX Starship destroyed SN1 during pressure testing, overturned (and destroyed) the SN3 with defective test design, causing the SN4 to explode violently and eventually flying the Starships SN5, SN6 and SN8 – but not before more false starts, interruptions and repairs. Through the hardware-rich process of trial and error, SpaceX managed to go from completing its first steel ring in one piece to the fully complete Starship SN8’s almost completely successful 12.5 km (7.8 mi) launch debut in twelve months.
While pure speed has been a great boon for SpaceX, it seems the company has become more cautious in recent months with the introduction of the first Starships at full height – presumably each representing a more comprehensive investment and thus justifies further risk aversion. At the same time, Starship is clearly an extraordinarily complex launch vehicle, and that complexity only grows as the program progresses and produces more and more complex prototypes that require equivalent complex testing.
Starship SN8 spent nearly two months at the launch pad gradually completing several key tests before SpaceX finally cleared the rocket to attempt the program’s first high-altitude launch on December 11th. As of January 12, Starship SN9 has been on the pillow for three weeks. Meanwhile, the Starship SN10 is practically ready to start testing, and the SN11 can be made ready a few weeks after that.
Starship SN9’s next (fourth) static fire attempt is now expected no earlier than Wednesday, January 13, though it may change rapidly depending on the severity of the problem that caused Tuesday’s interruption.