In the annals of history, “SN8” may be a moniker that many space fans look back on lovingly.
Next week, Elon Musk says his SpaceX company will try to fly its prototype Starship rocket ̵
Named SN8 or serial number 8, this will also be the first flight of a Starship prototype with the nose cone attached on top, giving it a more finished look.
The launch takes place from Boca Chica, Texas, the site of SpaceX’s development and testing of its Starship vehicle.
In the past, it has flown more primitive Starship prototypes without nose cones on short hops, up to 150 meters in the air, before being carried back to a landing on Earth.
However, the flight of the SN8 will be a completely different animal.
So far, Starship prototypes have flown with only one of the company’s innovative Raptor engines on board. SN8, meanwhile, will be the first to fly with three.
It aims to reach an altitude of 15 kilometers before tilting around and down the belly first and simulating what a future return from orbit might look like.
“The goal is to test 3 engine ascents, body flaps, transition from main to main tank and landing flip,” Musk wrote on Twitter earlier this week after a successful static fire test of the rocket.
However, landing of the vehicle is not guaranteed. “A lot of things have to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance,” Musk added in a later tweet. “But that’s why we have SN9 and SN10.”
SpaceX, which launched humans to NASA for the second time earlier this month, has made no secret that its rapid iterations of Starship, built rapidly and in increasing complexity, each have a significant degree of failure on each test.
In fact, several Starship prototypes have experienced failures. SN3 collapsed during pressure testing in April 2020, SN4 exploded back in May 2020 after its own static fire test, and even SN8 has experienced problems.
But the company hopes that developing prototypes quickly will be the best way to make this ambitious rocket a reality.
Starship, which will launch on top of a single reusable booster known as the Super Heavy, would be the most powerful rocket in history towering 70 feet high.
SpaceX wants to use it first to more easily launch its controversial Starlink mega-constellation. While the company’s existing Falcon 9 rocket could launch 60 Starlink satellites per Flight, Starship can start hundreds.
Ultimately, though, the goal is to use Starship and Super Heavy to send humans to Mars and potentially other destinations in the solar system as well.
The company is far from realizing this goal. But if it can prove that a full-scale Starship vehicle can fly and return to Earth as intended, it will take a big step towards it.
Eventually, perhaps next year, the company hopes to reach orbit for the first time with a subsequent Starship prototype.
But first we will see Starship fly to 15 kilometers, turn around and down in the belly-first back to Earth. Whether it’s SN8 next week or SN9 or SN10 at a later date, it’s definitely going to be a sight to behold.