SpaceX fired the engines on its Starship SN8 prototype on Tuesday evening, with billionaire CEO Elon Musk tweeting that the resultant “good static fire” produced during the final test had likely paved the way for the vehicle to take its first test flight sometime next week.
The proposed 5km (50,000 feet) test flight would exceed the previous record set for the craft, a hop test that maxed out at around 500 feet.
In his tweet, Musk hinted that the test flight’s date for next week was still tentative, since a review of the data will still have to be completed, and said that the goal of such an outing would be to test “3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.” In response to a question about the likelihood of a successful landing, Musk put the odds at a conservative “1/3 chance,” conceding that “[a] lot of things need to go right.”
The high potential for a crash landing, Musk wrote, is “why we have SN 9 & SN10" — the two subsequent generations of Starship prototypes that SpaceX will have ready to go, should the SN8 test flight fail. SpaceX has long deployed the strategy of having sister crafts waiting in the wings, prepared to use the data from previous failed prototypes in order to improve upon their successes and learn from past launches’ mistakes.
While a rapt public is undoubtedly looking forward to a tidy descent onto a landing pad as a sign of success, Musk has previously tried to temper expectations on what a fruitful launch for the SN8 would look like, reminding everyone that “understanding exactly how the body flaps control pitch, yaw & roll during descent, such that the ship is positioned well to relight, flip & land, would be a big win.”