SpaceX planned to launch its most sophisticated test yet of Starship SN8 on Tuesday, according to a tweet from the company.
There was only a one-in-three chance of completing all mission objectives, according to a tweet from Elon Musk. But this would have marked one giant leap closer to a commercial space alternative to lengthy airline flights, in addition to future crewed missions to the moon and Mars.
The launch streamed live between 11:00 AM EST and 6:00 PM EST on the company's YouTube channel (featured below). The live stream projected an estimated launch time of 5:30 PM EST, but the Raptor engines auto-aborted 1.3 seconds before launch.
Raptor auto-abort at T-1 second— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 8, 2020
UPDATE Dec. 8, 5:44 PM EST: Raptor auto-abort, next attempt to be decided
SpaceX tweeted an update on the Starship launch scrub, which said: "Raptor auto-abort at T-1 second." The Boca Chica airspace is still restricted for tomorrow, which means we may have another launch debut attempt on Wednesday, Dec. 9 — sometime between 9:00 AM EST and 6:00 PM EST.
However, SpaceX may need to perform extensive maintenance on Starship, in which case the next flight may not happen on Wednesday.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 5:35 PM EST: SpaceX's Starship SN8 auto-aborts due to Raptor engines, 'standing down for the day'
After a tension-filled day of waiting, SpaceX's Starship SN8 prototype rocket auto-aborted 1.3 seconds before liftoff from Boca Chica base. As of writing, the rocket appears to be in cool-down.
The SpaceX live stream then said "Raptor Abort, Standing Down For The Day," legitimately calling off the Tuesday launch demo.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 5:16 PM EST: SpaceX targets Starship SN8 launch for roughly 5:30 PM EST
SpaceX's YouTube live stream of the launch debut for the Starship SN8 states: "Now Targeting Liftoff ~4:30 PM CST," or roughly 5:30 PM EST.
However, this isn't an exact launch window, which lasts until 6:00 PM EST.
SpaceX enthusiasts have remained at the edge of their seats for most of Tuesday, anxiously awaiting Starship's first test launch to an altitude of more than 40,000 ft (12,100 m).
UPDATE Dec. 8, 5:00 PM EST: WB-57 observation jet arrives in Boca Chica airspace
NASA's WB-57 surveillance jet arrived in the skies above SpaceX's Starship — flying at 41,000 ft (12,496 m), roughly the target altitude for the SN8's debut launch.
This is significant because — as an observation jet, NASA's WB-57 is in the area to observe, study, and capture images of SpaceX's Starship SN8.
All signs suggest the flight is still "go for launch," sometime before 6:00 PM EST.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 4:28 PM EST: SpaceX has put its logo in the sky above the launch area
SpaceX has called in favors from jet pilots to "draw" a giant X in the sky using jet contrails — in an apparent meta-reference to itself — to mark the imminent launch of the Starship SN8 vehicle.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 4:20 PM EST: Starship's methane recondenser is on, SpaceX launch attempt likely
An on-site live stream from NASA Space Flight documented the switching-on of a methane recondenser, which presumably means SpaceX's Starship SN8 is preparing for launch.
The official launch time has yet to be released.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 3:35 PM EST: SpaceX nabs NASA surveillance jet service, possible launch at 4:00 PM EST
NASA has granted SpaceX support for Tuesday's debut launch of the Starship SN8 — in the form of the U.S. agency's reconnaissance jet typically used to snap aerial photos and capture videos of launch and space-related events.
The WB-57 jets were previously used to capture major spaceflight milestones like SpaceX's Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort test — in addition to the Demo-2 astronaut launch and reentry this year. Presumably made available via the $135 million contract the company nailed for Starship moon lander development in April, NASA stands to reap the greatest benefit from SpaceX's constant advances.
Also conveniently serves as a barometer for launch timing, implying that SN8's high-altitude debut is NET ~3pm CST (~21:00 UTC) :) https://t.co/ghpCk2OUvT— Eric Ralph (@13ericralph31) December 8, 2020
Crucially, in addition to its emblematic role of NASA's new and fruitful relationship with SpaceX's Starship program, the capabilities of the space agency's surveillance systems function as a sneaky barometer, figuratively speaking — with which we can estimate Starship SN8's launch schedule.
So get ready, because we might be in for Starship SN8's first debut launch to 50,000 ft (15,240 m) at 4:00 PM EST.
UPDATE Dec. 8, 1:20 PM EST: SpaceX teams 'working through test prep,' no word on possible delays
As of writing, SpaceX teams are "working through additional test prep," according to the live stream of the Tuesday launch debut of the Starship SN8.
Neither SpaceX's nor Elon Musk's Twitter accounts have as of yet stated the exact time of liftoff — nor have they shed light on the possibility of delays, which means today's debut launch may still get the final green-light from mission control.
SpaceX's launch debut of starship to 50,000 feet
In the most ambitious-yet test of SpaceX's sleek Starship design, the Prototype SN8 is nearing its fully-operational future with every passing day. The test will see the company try to fly the next-gen rocket nine miles (15 km) in the air.
If everything goes smoothly, the rocket will carry out an aerial flip maneuver to prepare for landing via thrust-vectored descent — much like the numerous successful Falcon 9 first-stage booster landings.
This will also mark the first simultaneous use of three Raptor engines, and a nose cone on a rocket — in addition to the large maneuvering control surfaces called "flaps" (the wing-like structures).
The Elon Musk-owned company was initially granted Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in the area surrounding SpaceX's Boca Chica base — which suggests Starship SN8's launch is about to move forward.
Typically, SpaceX initially refused to confirm what date was officially slated for the Starship launch.
SpaceX's Starship SN8 debut slipped from Sunday, Elon Musk lands in Texas
Lucky for us, SpaceX made good on CEO Elon Musk's promise to broadcast SN8's high-risk first flight "warts and all" — as the live webcast is went live Tuesday morning. But the official timing of the test remains uncertain, which means Starship SN8's launch debut could happen any time between 11:00 and 6:00 PM EST on Tuesday, Dec. 8 — or it could be delayed and aborted.
SpaceX's highly-anticipated Starship launch debut slipped from an earlier Sunday launch to Tuesday at roughly the same time CEO Elon Musk was spotted making his way into South Texas.
Obviously, he didn't cross the state border on foot. Musk flew in on a private jet, which landed in Brownsville, Texas on Dec. 5 — roughly one day before Starship SN8's Monday launch target.
Hydraulic control from Raptor engine debris likely cause of initial delay
At first glance, the roughly 165-ft (50-m) tall Starship rocket is quite smooth. But it's had a rocky trip from factory to flight debut. Non-specific issues with one or more Raptor engines caused an engine swap retesting — which pushed the launch debut back one or two weeks, reports Teslarati.
The most crucial problem — a near-catastrophic loss of hydraulic control from debris blown up by a Raptor engine — was probably at fault for the SN8's launch debut delay of up to two weeks.