SpaceX is nearly done with short-hop Starship test flights. Elon Musk has shared (via TechCrunch) that the company’s SN8 Starship prototype should be finished in “about a week,” and will conduct Starship’s first high-altitude flight. After static fire tests and checkouts, SpaceX will attempt a 60,000-foot return trip with the rocket.
The prototypes that SpaceX has flown and landed for its so-called ‘short-hop’ tests over the past few weeks have been full-sized, but with a simulated weight installed on the top in place of the actual domed nosecone that will perch atop the final production Starship and protect any cargo on board. SN5 and SN6, which are often compared to grain silos, are also lacking the large control flaps on either side of the nosecone that will help control its flight. SN8 will have both, according to Musk.
This version of the prototype will also undergo the same early testing and its precursors, including a static fire and other ground checkouts, followed by another static fire before ultimately attempting to fly to an altitude of 60,000 feet – and then returning back to the ground for a controlled landing.
Whenever the flight happens, it will represent an important milestone for SpaceX. Starship is the key to the company’s future now that Crew Dragon appears to be a success. While 60,000ft is far from space (that starts at roughly 62 miles), reaching such altitude would show that Starship is viable for more than brief jumps. It would also represent one of the last major steps before Starship reaches orbit and, eventually, fulfils SpaceX’s dreams of space tourism and interplanetary journeys.