Tomorrow SpaceX will perform another major test of its Starship rocket. Elon Musk's space outfit will try to fly Starship prototype SN8 to an altitude of 15km to test the performance of three Raptor engines over the course of several minutes. The last two tests, performed in August and September, involved just a single Raptor engine and were limited to an altitude of 150 meters.
This higher flight profile will take Starship above nearly 90 percent of Earth's atmosphere, which will allow the company to do several new tests: assess the performance of body flaps on Starship, transition from using propellant from the main fuel tanks to smaller ones used for landing burns, and test the vehicle's ability to reorient itself for returning to the launch site.
On Twitter, Elon Musk estimated SN8 has about a 1-in-3 chance of hitting an altitude of 15km and landing safely back on Earth. Starship is the second stage of SpaceX's new launch system, which is intended to reach Mars. Starship sits on top of a Super Heavy booster, which will use a massive 35 Raptor engines. No flights of the Super Heavy booster have been performed yet. SpaceX started with Starship as it believes the upper stage is the most difficult part of a fully reusable rocket.
Speaking at the 2020 Axel Springer Award, Elon Musk predicted SpaceX may be able to launch the first crewed missions to Mars in six years, possibly as early as four years. The first cargo mission to Mars could take place as early as two years from now. The ideal launch window to Mars happens roughly every two years, that's why these milestones are planned two years apart.
“We are going to try and send an uncrewed vehicle there in two years,” the SpaceX founder said on Tuesday at the Axel Springer Award 2020 ceremony in Berlin, Germany. “I’d say six years from now, highly confident [that humans will travel to Mars]. If we get lucky, maybe four years.”