SpaceX has completed the fourth major flight test of a Starship rocket, which appears to have ended in a huge explosion once again.
Poor weather conditions at the launch site means it is still unclear what happened, but SpaceX boss Elon Musk said “something significant happened shortly after landing burn start” that resulted in a crater.
The attempt to launch and land a Starship rocket on Tuesday from SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas came less than four weeks after the last test ended in a fiery explosion.
Previous launch attempts on Friday and Monday were scrubbed - the first due to technical issues, the second as a result of an absent FAA inspector.
All three previous Starship flight test have ended in a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”, as SpaceX puts it, and a successful launch and landing would have been a major step towards realising Musk’s Mars ambitions.
SpaceX posted a live stream of the event a few minutes before it took place.
Hello and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of SpaceX’s latest attempt to launch and land its Mars-bound Starship space craft.
Friday’s attempt was scrubbed due to bad weather but road closures are in place, flight clearance has been sought and Starshup SN11 is already at the launchpad in Boca Chica, ready to fly.
There’s no fixed time for the launch but we’ll have all the latest updates right here, as well as a live stream of the launch.
There was confirmation from Elon Musk last night that SpaceX is at least preparing for a launch today.
SpaceX has also updated its website to include today’s date as the target for the Starship SN11 test.
Cameron County in Texas has posted a public notice for the closure of roads surrounding SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility today.
It’s a shorter period than usual - the window was 12.5 hours on Friday - but there is no static fire test today, just the flight. SpaceX usually requests road closures for entire weeks but Monday’s is currently the only day with closures listed. A sign that SpaceX is confident Starship SN11 will fly today?
All times listed are local, so the window opens at 6pm BST and will close at 11pm.
Here’s the latest weather for Boca Chica, Texas, courtesy of Weather.com.
It’s, well, cloudy. All day.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the launch won’t happen today, but it does mean it might be difficult to see. The weather was much clearer for the SN10 launch, however even then the Starship prototype was partially obscured by clouds when it reached its 10km apogee.
For comparison, this is how the weather looked on Friday, when the Starship SN11 launch was scrubbed without explanation.
SpaceX has still not publicly commented on why the attempt was abandoned, but there is speculation that it was weather related. Hopefully that’s not the case, otherwise today’s attempt does not look good.
It seems that the weather wasn’t actually the issue on Friday. A comment from Elon Musk on a Twitter thread has been brought to our attention, where he said that the reason for standing down was that “additional checkouts are needed.”
That’s a good sign, and the weather is actually looking much better now anyway - at least from the images we can see of Starship SN11 on the launchpad.
There’s still 2.5 hours until the launch window opens. Then it could be another five or so hours before it actually takes place.
SpaceX doesn’t like to publicize testing schedules of the Starship prototypes due to the number of variables that could cause disruption: FAA approval, technical issues, local road closures, weather, etc.
There is also no public timeline for Starship’s development, though we have an idea of what to expect through various statements put out by SpaceX and comments from Elon Musk:
March 2021: Starship SN11 high-altitude flight test.
July 2021: Starship SN20 or earlier will perform the first ever orbital flight with a super heavy booster attached.
2022: Starship enters production, with Elon Musk hoping to produce up to 100 per year and a fleet size of 1,000+ in the early 2030s.
2023: First commercial flight of Starship. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maeawa bought the first ticket and plans to bring eight members of the public with him on the trip around the moon.
2024: First uncrewed Starship mission to Mars.
2026: First ever crewed Starship mission to Mars.
2050: First self-sustaining colony established on Mars, transforming humanity into a multi-planetary species.
With such a vague timeline, it is hard to predict which astronauts will be involved in the trips to Mars. SpaceX is already working closely with Nasa for missions to the ISS, and last week a group of astronauts visited Starship SN11.
Nasa astronaut Christina Koch shared an image of herself and colleagues Michael Barratt, Reid Wiseman and Matthew Dominick standing in front of the prototype with the caption “common goals, shared vision”.
Less than 1.5 hours to go now until the launch window opens.
While we wait, here’s a reminder of how the SN10 test went:
That “beautiful soft landing” was then followed by this moment, roughly eight minutes later:
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