Perhaps just two or so minutes away from ignition, SpaceX Starship prototype SN9 aborted its third triple-Raptor static fire attempt late into the test window on January 12th
Already extended from 5 pm CST (UTC-6) to 8 pm CST, SpaceX only really started clearing the test facilities near the original end of the window and began loading its second fully-assembled Starship with liquid oxygen and methane propellant around 7 or 7:30 pm. At 7:58 pm, a local sheriff sounded a police siren to warn any local residents or workers of an imminent test – needed in the event of an explosion (“overpressure event”), which could turn shatter glass windows and pose a general hazard.
Now a well-worn, familiar process for unofficial Starship followers, the siren serves (however imprecisely) as an approximate T-10 minute marker for any kind of hazardous testing. Hoping to rectify two prior unsuccessful static fire attempts, Starship SN9 may have made it just 2-3 minutes away from a second ignition before an unknown issue caused SpaceX ground controllers or Starship itself to trigger an abort.
Rearing its head in the form of a large, simultaneous vent releasing pressure from Starship SN9’s methane and oxygen tanks, aborts are an equally familiar event for those that have followed along for the last year or two. Starships may have taken some spectacular leaps forward in 2020, but the program and the prototypes it is currently producing are still relatively immature and, in other words, not exactly refined, polished final products.
In 2020 alone, SpaceX destroyed Starship SN1 during pressure testing, toppled (and destroyed) SN3 with faulty test design, saw SN4 violently explode, and eventually flew Starships SN5, SN6, and SN8 – but not before multiple false-starts, aborts, and repairs. Through that hardware-rich process of trial and error, SpaceX managed to go from completing its first one-piece steel ring to the fully-assembled Starship SN8’s almost completely successful 12.5 km (7.8 mi) launch debut in twelve months.
While that sheer speed has been a huge boon for SpaceX, the company appears to have become more cautious in recent months with the introduction of the first full-height Starships – presumably each representing a more substantial investment and thus warranting additional risk-aversion. At the same time, Starship is clearly an extraordinarily complex launch vehicle and that complexity only grows as the program progresses, producing more and more complex prototypes that require equivalently complex testing.
Starship SN8 spent almost two months at the launch pad gradually completing several crucial tests before SpaceX ultimately cleared the rocket to attempt the program’s first high-altitude launch on December 11th. As of January 12th, Starship SN9 has been at the pad for three weeks. Meanwhile, Starship SN10 is practically ready to begin testing and SN11 could be made ready just a few weeks after that.
Starship SN9’s next (fourth) static fire attempt is now expected no earlier than Wednesday, January 13th, though that could quickly change depending on the severity of the problem that caused Tuesday’s abort.