SpaceX's Boca Chica base is readying for the next launch campaign and Starship SN9 began its rollout to the launch site on Tuesday, according to an initial report from NASA Space Flight.
There exists a chance SN9 might launch before 2021, in a repeat of SN8's flight which almost landed perfectly, if not for its excess velocity, which caused an explosion.
SpaceX's Starship SN9 rolling out to launch site
SpaceX's Starship SN9 campaign anticipates a busy launch schedule in 2021 — along with nine Starships in multiple stages of production, not to mention a Super Heavy prototype.
Despite the explosive conclusion, Starship SN8 surpassed expectations, overcoming several obstacles and gathering crucial flight data before it lost thrust during the final seconds of its landing burn — which sent it barreling into the ground with excess velocity, and exploding in a fireball.
As of writing, officials are still cleaning up the landing site — where SN8's nearly intact nosecone still resting where it landed after the explosion subsided. Elon Musk has suggested the nosecone will be preserved in posterity and honor of the destroyed Starship's accomplishments.
Regardless of how the SN8 flight ended, SpaceX had always planned to proceed directly to the SN9 launch campaign. But while SN9 awaited its initial rollout from the High Bay, one of the transport mounts collapsed — this caused the SN9 to tilt into the High Bay wall, which damaged aero surfaces on the craft's nosecone.
Starship SN9 aims for nearly 8-mile-high flight
This forced SpaceX's hand into spending several days repairing Starship SN9 — including the use of an aero surface initially designed for SN10's nosecone — which as of writing is going through mating operations in the Wind Break facility.
This multi-flow policy of launch processing at SpaceX's Boca Chica base enables the pursuit of multiple prototype Starship launches, with continually updating flight profiles. SN9 is due to fly 7.7 miles (12.5 km) before a future Starship will attempt to fly between 9.3 miles (15 km) and 12.42 miles (20 km) — depending on how SN9 fares.
SpaceX's SN9 has three Raptor engines installed
Since SN9 has completed repairs, it was released from the grip of the Liebherr LR1600/2 Crawler Crane "Tankzilla" — which rushed to the scene of SN9's earlier tipping issue and hold the Starship up until a replacement stand was installed inside the High Bay.
This marks the first time a fully-integrated Starship is rolled down Highway 4, with its nosecone pre-mated and all three Raptor engines installed.
Elon Musk's SpaceX may launch Starship SN9 in 2020
A new pre-launch flow will come out after the Starship SN9 reaches the launch site. The launch schedule will likely require merely one cryo-proof testing run with liquid nitrogen, and then a triple-Raptor static fire test.
Assuming these tests go well, and SpaceX receives the necessary clearance to move forward with the launch, SN9 is slated to blast off either just before or after the New Year — which means we may have one more SpaceX launch before 2020 is out.
While Starship's 2020 achievements are extremely noteworthy, 2021, will without, doubt be a cornerstone year — as Elon Musk's SpaceX continues to develop the world's first rapidly-reusable and interplanetary launch vehicle.