SpaceX got closer than ever to a successful landing of one of its Starship prototypes last week, and the next test could be the one where the company finally nails it.
The Elon Musk-backed rocket maker delivered its latest prototype, named the SN11, to its Boca Chica, Texas, launch site on Monday. Photos shared online showed the spacecraft standing at the site after a heavy duty crane nicknamed “Tankzilla” moved it into place.
SpaceX hasn’t said exactly when the next flight test will take place, but it will likely take some time to prepare the spacecraft for the event. NASASpaceFlight.com, an industry news website, estimated the SN11 could be ready as soon as next week, based on turnaround times for the earlier prototypes.
In the meantime, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 60 more Starlink satellites aboard one of its reusable Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida this week. The first launch window is scheduled for Tuesday night.
While the Falcon 9 is designed to travel into orbit, the Starship is designed to land on non-Earth ground and return. NASA selected the Starship as one of three projects for its future Moon missions, and Musk has said the spacecraft could even be used for eventual human habitation on Mars.
The Starship is 160 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It’s designed to carry more than 100 metric tons. When launching for missions beyond Earth's atmosphere, it will also stand on one of SpaceX's Super Heavy rockets.
The previous Starship prototype, SN10, did manage to launch, perform a “belly flop” maneuver and right itself before landing mostly upright last week. The spacecraft did have a noticeable tilt, however, and something on or near it appeared to be burning for a few minutes before it exploded on the landing pad.
Musk reacted positively to the test, noting in one tweet that the SN10 had “landed in one piece” and in another, making a reference to Norse mythology by writing that it was “in Valhalla now” with a slow-motion video of the fire.