SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype flared to life a full three times today (January 13) and apparently kept the vehicle on track for a high-altitude test flight in the near future.
The three-engine SN9 vehicle performed its second, third and fourth “static fire” tests in rapid succession today (January 13) at SpaceX’s South Texas facilities near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica. The engines switched on briefly at 13.28 EST (1828 GMT), again at 15:22 EST (2022 GMT) and then once again at. 16:36 EST (2136 GMT).
During a static fire, the engines burn briefly while a vehicle remains attached to the ground. The SN9 already had such a test under its belt ended a brief static fire on 6 January.
Starship and Super Heavy: SpaceX̵
“All three static fires ended and no RUD!” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter this afternoon. (RUD is an abbreviation for “rapid unplanned separation”, Musk’s favorite euphemism for “explosion.”)
Detanking & inspections now. Good progress towards our ‘Jump in & go to Mars!’ goals, ”he added in another tweet.
Detanking & inspections now. Good progress towards our “Jump in and go to Mars!” Goal. January 13, 2021
These tests are part of the launch preparations for SN9, which will take to the skies in the coming days or weeks, if all goes according to plan. The SN9’s aircraft are expected to be similar to the one carried out last month by its predecessor, the SN8, which rose 12.5 kilometers into the southern Texas sky.
SN8 is no more; it came down too fast and exploded in its designated landing zone. But the vehicle controlled pretty much all of its other boxes, which got the SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk to declare the test mission on December 9 – the first ever high-altitude flight of a Starship vehicle – an exciting success.
SpaceX develops Starship to take people and payloads to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. The transport system consists of two recyclable elements: a 165-foot (50-meter) spacecraft called the Starship and a giant rocket known as the Super Heavy.
Both Starship and Super Heavy will be powered by SpaceX’s next generation Raptor engine. The last Starship will have six Raptors, Musk says, and the Super Heavy will contain about 30 of the engines.
Starship will be powerful enough to launch itself out of the moon and Mars, but it needs Super Heavy’s help to get away from our much more massive planet. (After getting Starship in the ground, Super Heavy returns to Earth for a vertical landing, ideally directly on the starter rack.)
Musk has set an ambitious timeline for Starship, which states that the system should start launching people to Mars by 2026 and could even do so in 2024 “if we get lucky.” So expect testing in South Texas to increase significantly in the coming months and years.
We could see another static fire or two before SN9 comes up. After all, the SN8 carried out four static fires in about a month before taking off. Such tests are closely monitored by Starship monitors as the tourist site Spadre.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at. 17.20 EST on January 13 to include the news of today’s third static fire.
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.