SpaceX plans to destroy a Starship prototype before flying the next one

Elon Musk is relentlessly developing his biggest rocket yet.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read

Elon Musk tweeted this scenic view of Starship SN5 prototype in mid-air in August 2020. This was Starship's biggest hop yet as SpaceX aimed to reach 150 meters up into the air under the power of a single Raptor engine.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

It could be a dramatic few weeks at the SpaceX rocket development site in Boca Chica, Texas. Elon Musk's space company is planning to intentionally destroy its next Starship prototype and then graduate from short hops to real flights.

Starship is the next-generation rocket that SpaceX hopes to eventually send to Mars. A series of prototypes built at Boca Chica over the past two years have either failed during testing or been part of three successful controlled test "hops" of about 500 feet in altitude (150 meters).

NASASpaceflight reports that the latest prototype, labeled SN7.1, is basically a large test tank. It will be put through a series of tests this week until it eventually fails under pressure, perhaps in spectacular fashion like some of its predecessors that have literally popped their tops. 

After the planned demise of SN7.1, SpaceX will take its Starship development to new heights. 

Over the weekend, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that yet another prototype, SN8, is nearly done and ready for a battery of tests, hopefully followed by a proper flight rather than just a short hop. 

"SN8 Starship with flaps & nosecone should be done in about a week. Then static fire, checkouts, static fire, fly to 60,000 ft & back."

That's a quick trip to over 11 miles (18 kilometers) and back, but Elon Musk always has his mind on the more distant future. On Monday he said that he anticipated SpaceX will go through several more Starship prototypes before one finally makes it to orbit during a test.