Update: SpaceX has confirmed plans to attempt Starship serial number 8’s (SN8) high-altitude launch debut as early as Tuesday morning, December 8th.
The company also made good on CEO Elon Musk’s promise to share SN8’s risky first flight “warts and all” and reiterated that the mission will have an official webcast. As with all developmental testing, timing is uncertain and liable to change at the last second, but Starship SN8’s launch debut is currently scheduled between 8 am and 5 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, December 8th.
SpaceX’s much-anticipated Starship launch debut has slipped from Sunday to Tuesday around the same time as CEO Elon Musk was seen arriving in South Texas.
Heralding something, the executive’s private jet landed in Brownsville, Texas on December 5th, around half a day prior to Starship SN8’s Monday, December 6th launch target. Most recently scheduled (however tenuously) as early as November 30th, there were strong signs – at one point – that SN8’s launch debut could come as soon as October or early November.
While at first quite smooth, the ~50-meter-tall (~165 ft) rocket – both the first to reach that height and fire up multiple Raptor engines – has had a fairly rocky journey from factory to flight. Unspecified issues with one or more Raptors triggered an engine swap retesting at a cost of a week or two, while the most significant issue – a near-catastrophic loss of hydraulic control caused by debris kicked up by Raptor – likely delayed SN8’s launch debut by another two or so weeks.
On November 25th, SpaceX essentially redid the ill-fated static fire after replacing a Raptor, firing up all three of Starship SN8’s engines for the second time in a prelude to the rocket’s imminent liftoff. Musk quickly confirmed that the results of the test were good, opening the door for a launch debut as early as “next week” (Nov 29/30).
November 30th soon came and went, as did backup attempts in the days following. Most recently, plans for SN8 to launch on December 6th or 7th were canceled in favor of the 8th (8 am to 5:30 pm CST/UTC-6) with backups on December 9th and 10th (8 am to 5 pm). Local road closures were quickly followed by Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) published by the FAA, confirmation that they were the new targets for Starship SN8’s 12.5-kilometer (~7.8 mi) launch debut.
With Musk himself now on the ground in Texas to (presumably) oversee Starship SN8’s debut, the odds of launch later this week are arguably much better. Having now spent more than 10 weeks at the launch pad, at least twice as long as any Starship preceding it, there’s no small chance that SN8 – the first prototype of its kind – is starting to be more of a nuisance than an asset. By all appearances, Starship SN9 – essentially a “refined” copy of SN8 – is practically ready for launch with SN10 perhaps just a week or two behind it.
In other words, if SN8 (and not Raptor or ground support equipment) is specifically to blame for about a month of delays, new and improved replacements are waiting for their turn just down the road. Stay tuned for updates as we (hopefully) track towards Starship’s first high-altitude test flight.