SpaceX is preparing to launch the fifth high-flying spacecraft from the Texas rocket factory this week.
This massive spacecraft, unlike its predecessors, is a relative to NASA’s next lunar rover, a vehicle that will place a shoe on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
Starship Serial No. 11, or SN15, is the latest Starship prototype that SpaceX launched, six miles above Boca Chica, Texas.
As the SN15 approaches the top of the flight, the three truck-sized Raptor engines should be switched off, one at a time, and then the SN15 should tilt sideways and jump back to Earth using all four wings to control the fall.
As the SN15 approaches the ground, the engine should be set up again and gradually lowered to the landing plate. This is where previous versions have failed, though.
The first two prototypes to soar to high altitudes, the SN8 and SN9 slammed into the landing pad at high speed and exploded immediately. But 10 minutes later, the fourth SN11 exploded in midair while the engine started to land again.
For SpaceX, explosions during rocket development are typical for this course.
“They use a development philosophy that is different from what governments do: flying. If something goes wrong, they will try to fix it again. If something goes wrong, they will try to fix it,” said John Lockdon, founder George The University of Washington’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council told the inner circle after the fourth spacecraft explosion. “People have appreciated SpaceX for how fast they move.”
But he added “The fact that they had trouble developing these early programs means that success has to be recorded before anyone except the high-risk person is willing to board.”
Landing is even more important now that NASA has chosen Starship to land the next astronaut on the moon.
The agency announced Friday that it is working with SpaceX to transform Starship into a lunar lander, which will launch the Artemis program, which aims to create a permanent human presence on the moon NASA hopes to land. The first Starship landed there in 2024, but a new report from the NASA Ombudsman found it was “highly unlikely” that the agency reached this deadline.
At the end of SpaceX, the key step to the moon was to fly and land the Starships here on Earth without exploding them.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has ambitions above the lunar surface. Ultimately, he said he planned to build 1,000 spacecraft carrying people and cargo to Mars and establish settlements there.
Musk said Thursday on Twitter that the company aims to launch SN15 this week, the government clearances indicated Tuesday and Wednesday may have a chance to fly.
The National Aviation Administration announced airspace closures for the area from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. CT on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Cameron County Judge issued a local road closure notice, another requirement for launches from noon to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
How to watch Starship flights live
As of Monday afternoon, SN15 sat on the Boca Chica launch pad during a test flight.SpaceX is likely to stream live from that site and from cameras housed in the rocket’s hood where the engine is located.
The close-up camera has provided some stunning images of past Starship flights, like the one below on the SN9 (we’ll embed the SpaceX live feed below when available).
In the meantime, a handful of rocket enthusiasts and fans of the company are broadcasting live from Boca Chica.
Broadcaster NASASpaceflight It will likely cover a critical “static” engine test that SpaceX must perform prior to launch by attaching the SN15 to the Launchpad and igniting the engine. It is not clear when this will happen. But the fastest opportunity is Tuesday.
LabPadre, a YouTube channel from Texas native Louis Balderas living across the bay from Boca Chica, offers six unique views of the Starship launch site.Below is the channel’s main 4K resolution feed.
For a more distant view of the launch location – broadcast from the top of the South Padre Island hotel resort, about 6 miles away, check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.