SpaceX has scrubbed the high altitude test of its newest Starship prototype, the SN15, which had been scheduled for the afternoon of Friday, April 30. No reason has been given for the cancellation, and it likely means that the test will be pushed back to next week.
The high altitude test is one of the biggest challenges for a prototype. In it, the prototype is fueled and launched and ascends to a high altitude. The prototype then performs its “belly flop” maneuver to turn over and attempts to come back down to Earth for a controlled vertical landing. This hasn’t been easy, however, as four previous attempts at getting a prototype to perform the landing maneuver have ended in the prototypes exploding.
In preparation for this latest test, SpaceX has been performing tests such as a static fire test performed on Monday, April 26. In this test, the prototype was put through launch preparations and remained tethered to the ground while it fired its engines. This allows engineers to check that everything is working as planned. It all seemed to go well, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the prototype was ready for its high altitude test later in the week.
Starship SN15 static fire completed, preparing for flight later this week
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2021
According to NASASpaceFlight, given the closure of roads in the area around the Boca Chica launch site, the test will most likely be rescheduled for Monday, April 3. There are few windows available for testing at the weekend, so next week is the most likely time for the test to go ahead.
SpaceX has said it plans to send the Starship on its first orbital flight this summer, but first, it will need to nail a high altitude test including the tricky vertical landing maneuver.
The eventual plan is for the Starship to become a heavy-launch vehicle for sending larger payloads on longer journeys such as to the moon and Mars. This would complement the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is used for launching satellites, crew capsules, and more and has a reusable first stage. Although reusable rockets are considerably harder to design and manage than single-use rockets, they have the potential to make space flight cheaper and more accessible as costs are lower when parts can be reused.