SpaceX is preparing to launch its fifth high-flying starship this week from its rockets in Texas.
Unlike its predecessors, this particular mega-spaceship is related to NASA’s landing on the Moon – vehicles that will put boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
Serial number 11, or SN15, is the latest in a series of Starship prototypes launched by SpaceX six miles above Boca Chica, Texas.
As the SN15 nears the peak of flight, it should shut down its three truck-sized Raptor engines one by one. Then the SN15 should lean sideways and dive back to Earth, using four wings to control the fall.
As it approaches the ground, the SN15 should restart its engines to turn upright again and descend gently to the landing pad. Here, however, his predecessors failed.
The first two prototypes, which soared at high altitude, SN8 and SN9, crashed into the landing surface at high speed and immediately exploded. A third, SN10, landed in one piece, but exploded 10 minutes later. A fourth, SN11, exploded in the air as it restarted the landing engines.
For SpaceX, explosions during rocket development are the same course.
“They use a different philosophy of development than the government, which is: Fly. If something goes wrong, they try to fix it. Fly again. If something else goes wrong, they try to fix it,” said John Logsdon, founder of the George University Institute for Space Policy. Washington and a former member of NASA’s advisory council told Insider after the fourth Starship explosion. “People praised SpaceX for moving fast.”
But, he added, “the fact that they had these early development program problems means they will have to be a record of success before anyone other than those taking extreme risks wants to board.”
The landing dunk is even more critical now that NASA has chosen Starship to land its next astronauts on the Moon.
The agency announced on Friday that it is working with SpaceX to turn Starship into a lunar lander that will launch its Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon. NASA hopes to land its first manned ship there in 2024, but a new report from NASA’s Inspector General’s Office revealed that it is “very unlikely” that the agency will meet that deadline.
At the end of SpaceX, a big step towards the Moon will be the flying and landing of spaceships here on Earth – without them taking off into the air.
However, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has ambitions beyond the lunar surface as well. Ultimately, he said, he plans to build 1,000 starships transporting people and cargo to Mars and establish a settlement there.
Musk he said On Twitter on Thursday that the company was aiming to launch SN15 sometime this week. State approvals suggest Tuesday and Wednesday could provide flight options.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued notices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of airspace closures for the area from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT. A Cameron County judge has also issued local road closures – another condition for the launch – from noon to 8pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
How to watch Starship’s flight live
As of Monday afternoon, SN15 has been upright on the Boca Chica launch pad. During the test flight, SpaceX will likely broadcast live from that location and from cameras inside the rocket’s skirt, where the engines are housed.
Close-up cameras provided stunning footage of Starship’s past flights, such as the SN9 footage below. (Below we will embed SpaceX’s live feed when available.)
Meanwhile, several rocket enthusiasts and fans of the company are broadcasting live from Boca Chica.
NASAS space flight emitters are likely to cover a critical test of the “static fire” engine that SpaceX must conduct before launch, anchoring the SN15 to the launch pad and starting its engines. It is unclear when this will happen, but the earliest opportunity is Tuesday.
LabPadre, a YouTube channel by Louis Balderas, a Texas resident who lives just across from Boca Chica Bay, offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the main 4K resolution channel.
For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of the hotel resort on South Padre Island, about 9 km away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.