Science

SpaceX powers up Starship SN20 prototype in key 6-engine test (video)

SpaceX continues to prepare its latest Starship prototype for a historic orbital test flight.

The Starship SN20 vehicle fired all six Raptor engines in a brief “static fire” test today (November 12) at Starbase, the SpaceX facility near the South Texas village of Boca Chica.

“Good static fire with all six engines!” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the test, which took place at 1:13 p.m. EST (1813 GMT; 12:13 p.m. local Texas time) and was streamed online by NASASpaceflight.com and SPadre.com.

Photos: SpaceX lifts huge super-heavy rocket onto launch pad

SpaceX’s Starship SN20 prototype performs a six-engine static fire test in South Texas on November 12, 2021, in this screenshot from a video captured by SPadre.com. (Image credit: Spadre.com)

SpaceX is developing Starship to carry people and charge the Moon, Mars, and other distant destinations. The system consists of two fully reusable elements: a giant first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and a 50-meter-tall spaceship known as the Starship.

SpaceX has launched prototype Starship before, sending a handful of three-engined vehicles to a maximum altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). But SN20 will take a much bigger leap: It is preparing to launch atop a Super Heavy on Starship’s first orbital test flight, which SpaceX intends to launch in the coming weeks or months.

The timing of that liftoff is unclear, in part because the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still conducting an environmental assessment of the Starbase orbital launch site. The FAA has submitted an evaluation draft and collected public comments on the document, but the final report has yet to be released.

Today’s test was not the first static fire, a test in which the rocket engines are activated briefly while the vehicle remains anchored to the ground, for SN20. SpaceX ran back-to-back static fires with the vehicle on October 21, but SN20 only had two Raptors installed at the time. Today’s test involved the flight configuration of six engines: three standard Raptors at “sea level” and three optimized to operate in the vacuum of space.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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