SpaceX plans to launch the eighth version of its Starship interplanetary rocket SN8 to about 50,000 feet with an ambitious test schedule that CEO Elon Musk wouldn’t take odds on its success. The silo-like stainless steel cylinder, which looks a little more spaceship-like with its nose cone attached for the first time, is hoped to blast off the pad at Boca Chica, Texas, test a bunch of onboard systems and then flip over for a belly-first descent. It will then fire its engines for a vertical landing on the pad. Maybe.
“Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance,” Musk said in a tweet. “But that’s why we have SN9 and SN10.” Those are the next prototype spacecraft, waiting in line in the production facility so that testing can continue even if the current vehicle is lost. Several of the earlier prototypes have gone out in a blaze of glory in spectacular and destructive fireballs. Each prototype is more complex than the next and SpaceX is gambling that disposable prototypes will be ultimately cheaper than achieving untested perfection on the first try. While the Starship’s top tier mission is to take humans to Mars, the vehicles sophisticated enough for orbital flight will be used as a more efficient way to launch low earth orbit satellites for Musk’s Starlink internet service.