Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch a prototype of its Mars rocket starship on Tuesday from the space agency’s Texas facility at the highest altitude “hop” test, a crucial trail for the rocket system, capable of landing humans on the moon and eventually Mars.
Musk used its three new Raptor rocket engines to try to lower expectations for Starship’s first suborbital flight, with an estimated 30 percent success at reaching altitudes above 12,000 meters. This is much higher than the first two tests of the vehicle at an altitude of 150 meters.
“With a test like this, success is not measured by accomplishing specific goals, but how much we can learn” SpaceX said on its website Monday.
StarShip, paired with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is a 120-meter-high rocket system designed to carry humans and 90 tons of cargo to the moon and Mars. It is the next generation of the space company’s fully reusable launch vehicle, and is at the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel affordable.
See | Starship SN8 High-Altitude Flight Test
SpaceX conducted two hop tests this year at its Boca Chica, Texas, launch site using prototype, single-engine rocket prototypes. The specimens entered the air about 150 m and landed in the concrete slab about a minute later.
A major step forward for the planned aircraft starship on Tuesday is to test the aerodynamic design of the rocket at altitudes higher than commercial aircraft. Such heights test how the starship returns to its landing pad, holding the air between the “landing flip maneuver” before touching down.
A source close to the filing said that SpaceX originally intended to fly the starship at an altitude of 15,000 meters, but changed the target to 12,000 meters in what was launched last week with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
SpaceX, which says its launch schedule is likely to change, said the launch should be delayed by Tuesday, according to details filed with the FAA, which said it has launch opportunities throughout Wednesday and Thursday.
See | Animation of the proposed SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System