At some point today, SpaceX hopes to conduct a crucial test flight of its next-generation starship rocket, flying a prototype of the vehicle at its highest altitude. The company plans to launch the huge rocket at a height of almost 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, before landing the vehicle back on the ground again.
The test aims to prove the spacecraft’s ability to launch and land vertically, something the spacecraft is expected to do on Earth and other worlds. SpaceX aims to use the Starship to send cargo and people to destinations in deep space like the Moon and Mars. A test like this will help demonstrate the starship’s ability to perform a controlled flight and see if the rocket’s hardware – particularly the Raptor’s three main engines – works as expected.
Launch and landing are just part of today’s test. On its website, SpaceX states that the prototype of the starship will actually perform “a flip landing maneuver, which would be the first for a vehicle of this size.” There are not many details about the maneuver publicly available, but it is a risky test that can easily go wrong, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk just giving the flight a “1/3 chance” of success. SpaceX itself is also de-emphasizing the possibility that the test will have a perfect launch and landing.
“With a test like this, success is not measured by the completion of specific goals, but rather by how much we can learn, which will inform and increase the likelihood of success in the future, as SpaceX advances rapidly in the development of the starship, ” SpaceX wrote about the flight on its website. But if all goes well, the flight will put the company on course to try even more ambitious tests in the future, culminating in the first launch of the spacecraft in orbit.
For this test, SpaceX plans to provide a live broadcast of the flight, which will go live shortly before takeoff. However, it is difficult to predict when this will happen. The Federal Aviation Administration has released flight restrictions for airspace around Boca Chica from 9 am to 6 pm ET, and there are flight restrictions for Wednesday and Thursday this week as well. “The schedule is dynamic and will likely change, as with all development tests,” writes SpaceX. The company will provide updates through Twitter, so be sure to follow SpaceX throughout the day to catch a glimpse of this rocket’s flight.