SpaceX Starship explodes whilst attempting to land during test

SpaceX’s Starship prototype is now expected to launch no earlier than Monday, January 18, although further delays are possible. SpaceX fans have been kept on the edge of their seats all week, with no confirmation of when the SN9 will launch on its first suborbital flight. A break came on Wednesday when SpaceX completed not one but three static fire tests in a row, hinting at the possibility of Starship launching before the week was over.

But the anticipated mission took a blow on Friday when SpaceX chief Elon Musk, 49, took to Twitter to announce two of the Starship’s engines need replacement.

The world’s richest man was asked by one SpaceX fan whether the company was still aiming at a weekend launch.

Mr Musk replied: “Two of the engines need slight repairs, so will be switched out.”

Another tweet from Everyday Astronaut pointed out an engine swap on Starship’s last iteration, SN8, caused a 26-day delay and the SN9 “might head home for a bit if they’re replacing two”.

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However, Mr Musk replied SpaceX has streamlined the process, saying: “We’re making improvements to ease engine swap. Needs to be a few hours at most.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now issued three new flight restrictions around SpaceX’s Starship facilities in Boca Chica, South Texas.

The restrictions cover the airspace around Boca Chica, east of Brownsville, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Restrictions were previously issued for the weekend but have since been withdrawn.

But with two of the Starship’s engines due to be replaced, chances are the test flight will suffer more delays.

Two of the engines need slight repairs, so will be switched out

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO

SpaceX will need to complete new static fire tests of the rocket’s Raptors.

Before the replacement, the engines were tested four times: once on January 6 and three times on January 13.

When Mr Musk was asked about another static fire test, he replied: “Probably wise.”

There is a lot of anticipations surrounding the first suborbital flight of the Serial Number 9.

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Starship’s last launch ended in disaster when the rocket failed to stick its landing and went up in a ball of flames on the launchpad.

In SpaceX’s view, however, the launch was a success, at least, as far as the flight is concerned.

The SN8 flew to an altitude of about 41,000ft after which it plunged to the ground belly-side down.

The so-called belly flop manoeuvre allowed Starship to slow down without burning its engines.

Once complete, Starship will perform the same stunt on its missions to Mars.

Starship is being developed a multi-planetary vehicle capable of reaching the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The spaceship will also serve NASA during the Artemis Moon landings after NASA selected private firms SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to build lunar landers for the programme.

Lisa Watson-Morgan of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said: “We are thrilled to see the variety of approaches from these companies.”

Mr Musk has also said he wants to put humans on Mars before the decade is over.

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