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Elon Musk's SpaceX is preparing to launch the latest prototype of its next-generation Starship rocket in the system's third high-altitude test on Wednesday.
The spaceship's prototype rocket, serial number 10 or SN10, is said to launch and fly up to 10 kilometers or about 32,800 feet in altitude. The rocket is made of stainless steel and represents the early versions of the rocket that Musk unveiled in 2019.
SpaceX briefly fired the rocket's engines to attempt a launch around 3:15 p.m. ET, but an unknown problem caused the missile to abandon the attempt and shut off the engines. SpaceX's chief integration engineer, John Insprucker, said on the company's webcast that it is currently assessing whether it is time to reset the rocket and try again today. The Federal Aviation Administration launch window for the SN10 trial runs until 7:30 p.m. ET.
The company is developing Starship with the aim of bringing cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.
Starship's SN10 prototype rocket is on the launchpad at the company's Boca Chica, Texas facility.
The flight is similar to SpaceX's December and February when prototypes SN8 and SN9 were tested. Both previous missiles fulfilled several development goals – including testing aerodynamics, turning off the engines one at a time, and turning them around to align for landing – but both prototypes exploded on impact when attempting to land and couldn't slow down enough.
As with the SN8 and SN9, the goal of the SN10 flight is not necessarily to reach the maximum altitude, but rather to test several important parts of the spacecraft system. The Starship prototype stands about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and is powered by three Raptor rocket engines. SpaceX fires all three engines to take off, then shuts them down one by one as they approach the intended altitude.
SN10 aims to transfer propellant from the main tanks to the collection tanks and then turn around for the "Belly Flop" re-entry maneuver so it can control its descent through the air with the missile's four flaps. In the final moments of the descent, SpaceX turns the rocket back into a vertical orientation and fires the Raptor engines to slow down before attempting to land.
While SpaceX has not yet successfully landed a Starship prototype after a high-altitude flight test, the company has landed earlier prototypes after short flights to an altitude of around 500 feet.
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