- SpaceX plans to launch a full-size Starship rocket prototype about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) into the air at 4:40 p.m. CT on Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas.
- The planned flight is Starship’s highest yet. SpaceX aims to test the aerodynamics, steering, landing ability, and more of the 16-story, steel-bodied prototype, called SN8 (serial no. 8).
- SpaceX can fly the vehicle between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT, according to FAA airspace closure notices. The company can also try Thursday or Friday if there’s an issue.
- Wednesday’s attempt follows a scrubbed flight on Tuesday caused by a Raptor rocket engine just 1.3 seconds before liftoff.
- NASA told Business Insider the agency plans to fly a high-altitude WB-57 jet from Houston to record SpaceX’s flight attempt. The plane is due to arrive in the Boca Chica area around 3:15 p.m. CT (4:15 p.m. ET).
- SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk said a lot could go wrong, and gave the rocket a one-in-three chance of landing in one piece.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
SpaceX is about to try its most ambitious test launch yet of Starship, a fully reusable rocket system that may one day slash the cost of reaching space by 1,000-fold — and you can watch the attempt live below.
The aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk, aims to launch a three-engine, 16-story prototype of the Starship spaceship at 4:40 p.m. CT on Wednesday from its expanding facilities at Boca Chica, Texas.
The plan is to fly the prototype — called serial no. 8, or SN8 — to about 41,000 feet or 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers), according to Reuters. That’s a slight reduction from the 50,000 feet or 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) that Musk said was the plan last month.
Such a flight is the highest and most difficult yet for Starship. Musk said last week that a “lot of things need to go right” for the attempt to succeed, adding that he thinks there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” that SN8 lands in one piece.
SpaceX tried to launch SN8 on Tuesday, but a last-second issue with one of the Raptor rocket engines triggered a scrub. The Federal Aviation Administration gave SpaceX between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT (9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET) to launch on Wednesday, according to an airspace closure notice. SpaceX is also permitted to try again at the same times on Thursday or Friday.
“The schedule is dynamic and likely to change, as is the case with all development testing,” SpaceX said on its website.
The company began a countdown to launch on Wednesday afternoon, but suddenly paused just 2 minutes and 6 seconds before liftoff. SpaceX’s livestream gave a new “tentative” launch time of 4:40 p.m. CT.
NASA plans to fly a WB-57 high-altitude observation jet out of Houston to Boca Chica and record video of SN8 soaring through the air. NASA flew the WB-57 around the launch site on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s flight was due to arrive in Boca Chica around 3:15 p.m. CT (4:15 p.m. ET). It’s unclear whether the plane took off at the planned time.
“We previously coordinated this flight with SpaceX, and they approved us to image the flight. It provided an outstanding training opportunity for our camera systems operator,” NASA spokesperson Josh Finch told Business Insider on Wednesday. “This was not a request by SpaceX but their launch provided a great, local opportunity to train for upcoming imagery missions.”
Finch added that NASA would send the imagery to SpaceX “for evaluation.”
SpaceX is broadcasting the launch via YouTube.
In the meantime, fans of the company are on the ground and streaming their own live video of the launch site.
We recommend starting with NASASpaceflight’s video stream, embedded below, given the broadcasters’ knowledge and multiple quality camera views.
For a more distant view of the launch site, which is broadcast from the top of a hotel resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away, check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.
Based on prior Starship prototype flights, a series of events typically precedes launch. A couple of hours beforehand, SpaceX will clear the launch site of personnel. Roughly an hour ahead of flight, storage tanks at the launch site will begin venting gases as SpaceX prepares to fuel Starship with cryogenic fuels.
Fueling later causes Starship to vent gases out of its top, signaling launch could occur within minutes.
Poor weather, a technical glitch, or a boat entering the launch’s danger zone — a new challenge for Starship — could lead to delays.
What SpaceX hopes to accomplish with its most ambitious Starship launch yet
SpaceX is taking a rapid but incremental approach to proving Starship’s core systems function as designed, making tweaks where the system needs work, and getting it back to the launch pad for more testing.
SpaceX flew a “Starhopper” prototype to about 492 feet (150 meters) in 2019 and launched a larger SN5 prototype to a similar altitude in August, as well as an SN6 prototype in September. Those tests helped SpaceX test the system’s giant Raptor rocket engines and landing capability.
This week’s test flight is a big step in seeing whether SN8 can withstand the rigors of greater altitudes, speeds, and maneuvers.
If all goes well, SN8 will lift off the pad and mostly fade from view. As it reaches the apogee of its flight, the thrusters of a reaction-control system will tip the vehicle forward into a “belly flop,” skydiving-like position. This will allow SpaceX to see how Starship’s canards and wing flaps perform as the vehicle careens back to Earth.
“SN8 will also attempt to perform a landing flip maneuver, which would be a first for a vehicle of this size,” SpaceX said on its site, adding that “success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn as a whole, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future.”
SpaceX ultimately hopes to leave behind suborbital launch attempts and try rocketing Starships to orbit from Boca Chica. However, the company now faces a new environmental analysis with the FAA. Depending on how that process plays out, SpaceX may see a delay to orbit from a few months to a few years.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published at 11:16 a.m. ET.