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SpaceX could launch the Starship prototype SN8 as early as Friday morning, Texas time, pending final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has issued a TFR this week, granting SpaceX the airspace around Boca Chica in South Texas to launch within specific windows between Friday and Sunday. The windows are open between 2pm and 11pm UTC (9am and 6pm EST) on those three days.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk, 49, has previously said Starship will blast off nine miles (15km) into the sky using three of its powerful Merlin engines.
To date, the prototype interplanetary spacecraft has only launched or “hopped” on brief flights up to 490ft (150m).
But the California-based rocket company is now gearing up for its most ambitious test flight yet, with a one-in-three chance it will end in disaster.
Mr Musk has said a “lot of things need to go right” for the Starship to survive its first major launch.
The stainless steel spacecraft will fly to an altitude of about 47,000ft after which it will cut off its three engines.
The spacecraft will then attempt to flip 90 degrees onto its side, guided by four fins mounted near the front and rear.
The fins will guide the rocket in freefall much in the same way a skydiver controls their descent by moving their arms and legs around.
This daring manoeuvre has been dubbed the “bellyflop” and has not been attempted by Starship yet.
Then, when Starship comes within a few hundred feet of the ground, it will flip back up to an upright position and fire its engines for a slow and controlled landing.
Starship has been in development since 2012 as a powerful launch vehicle capable of carrying more than 100 tons of cargo into space.
How quickly these plans materialise will likely hinge on the success of SN8’s test flight.
Mr Musk said last week in a tweet: “Good Starship SN8 static fire!
“Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week.
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“Goals are to test three engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks and landing flip.”
SN8 is the Starship’s eighth prototype model and at least another seven will be built before a fully-fledged Starship is unveiled.
And the next-generation spacecraft will come paired with the Super Heavy booster rocket, forming a 394ft-tall (120m) launch vehicle.
Mr Musk has said a completed Starship could ferry humans to the Moon and back by 2024 – the same year NASA aims to return astronauts to the Moon under its Artemis programme.
The SpaceX boss has also said he wants to put humans on Mars in just six years, with the possibility of cutting it down to just four.
Speaking at the 2020 Axel Springer Award Show in Berlin, Germany, he said: “I feel fairly confident about six years from now.
“I’d say if you say six years from now, I think highly confident.
“If we get lucky, maybe four years and we’re trying to send an uncrewed vehicle there in two years.”
Once completed, Mr Musk believes Starship will have the capacity to carry as many as 100 people to the Red Planet.
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