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UPDATE: SpaceX’s latest prototype launched successfully, but like its previous test flight, the rocket exploded on impact during an attempted landing. Read more here.
SpaceX is preparing to launch the latest prototype of its next-generation Starship rocket in the system’s second high-altitude test on Tuesday.
The spaceship prototype Serial Number 9 or SN9 flies up to 10 kilometers or approximately 32,800 feet in altitude. The flight will be similar to the SpaceX conducted in December when the prototype SN8 took off on the tallest and longest flight to date. The SN8 flight met several development goals, including testing the system’s aerodynamics and performing a flip to orientate yourself for landing. However, the prototype exploded on impact because the missile could not slow down enough.
SN9 is made of stainless steel, with the prototypes representing the early versions of the rocket that CEO Elon Musk unveiled last year. The company is developing Starship with the aim of bringing cargo and up to 100 people simultaneously on missions to the moon and Mars.
As with SN8, the goal of the SN9 flight is not necessarily to reach maximum altitude, but rather to test several important parts of the spacecraft system. The Starship prototype stands about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and is powered by three Raptor rocket engines. SpaceX fires all three engines to take off, then shuts them down one by one as they approach the intended altitude.
SN9’s attempt to launch was delayed for about a week as SpaceX worked to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch. Its SN8 flight violated the company’s existing Starship license, The Verge reported first and the FAA later confirmed that the federal aerospace agency had denied a SpaceX exemption request to exceed the maximum public risk that allow federal safety regulations, the FAA said in a statement.
SpaceX had to investigate its non-compliance and force Musk’s company to suspend launch until the investigation was completed and the FAA signed.
“The FAA determined late Monday (Feb. 1) that SpaceX complies with all safety and related federal regulations and is authorized to conduct SN9 operations under its launch license,” the FAA said.
Key tests for the SN9 flight include turning off the engines one at a time, transferring propellant from the main tanks to the header, flipping it over for the “belly flop” reentry maneuver, and controlling the descent through the air with the missile’s four flaps.
SpaceX stressed that “the dynamic development test schedule” may result in the attempt to launch being delayed, as was the case with previous Starship launches.
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