SpaceX Cancels Starship High-Altitude Test at Last Second

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SpaceX aims to send its upcoming Starship rocket to the moon, Mars, and beyond, but it’s a long way from those exotic destinations right now. The company’s long-awaited high-altitude test was scrubbed at literally the last second yesterday. SpaceX says the cancellation was due to abnormal readings from one of the rocket’s three Raptor engines. There are more potential launch windows coming up, but it’s unclear what went wrong and how long it’ll take to fix. 

SpaceX has gone through several prototype versions of the steel rocket once known as the Big Falcon Rocket. The renamed Starship currently exists as the SN8 (serial number 8), a vessel that previously aced a static fire test last month. Previous versions of the rocket have managed low-altitude flights before setting down on the launchpad, but the SN8 is set to be the first to rise to about 50,000 feet during its test flight. 

CEO Elon Musk expressed great confidence in the latest Starship prototype after the static fire test, noting that the company would attempt the test flight in a matter of days. When the time came yesterday (December 8th), the launch countdown was automatically aborted with about a second left. The error was apparently with one of the vessel’s three Raptor engines — the SN8 is the first version of the Starship with more than a single engine. The final version will have six Raptor engines. 

An earlier version of the Starship hovering above the ground before landing.

SpaceX has been mum on the exact cause of the abort, but there’s still a chance the Starship could take flight this week. There are possible launch windows today and tomorrow (December 9 and 10). However, if the issue proves too complex, SpaceX might need to push the test flight out to a later date. This is a necessary step on the way to orbital flight, so we expect the SN8 will eventually complete this “big hop” test. All previous Starship prototypes were either tethered to the ground or flew just a few hundred feet in the air before setting back down. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been talking a big game when it comes to the Starship’s future. He hopes to use this vessel to fly a Japanese billionaire around the moon in a couple of years, and he’s claimed the company could transport people to Mars in as little as four years. That seems very optimistic, and that would still be the case even without yesterday’s launch cancellation.

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