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SpaceX is about to run its final test of Starship SN9 before 1st launch

SpaceX is gearing up to test the ninth prototype of its big, shiny rocket, Starship SN9 Wednesday (Jan. 20), lighting up its engines for what should be the last time before its inaugural flight. The test is expected before 5 p.m. Central Time.

The rocket won't go anywhere during this "static fire" test. (Or, at least, it's not supposed to.) But if all goes according to plan, this test should clear the way for a launch in the near future, though SpaceX has not set a date. NASA Spaceflight is livestreaming the test from the Boca Chica, Texas, site where SpaceX builds and tests its Starships.

Related: Here's every spaceship that's ever carried an astronaut into orbit

This will be the second static fire test of SN9, after a trio of Jan. 13 tests ended inconclusively, with the engines not firing for the full intended duration, as NASA Spaceflight reported. The company has since swapped out the engines used in the past tests.

SpaceX's Starship SN8 rocket prototype stands atop its test stand at the company's Boca Chica, Texas, facility during an attempted high-altitude launch test on Dec. 8, 2020.  Its successor, SN9, is undergoing testing today (Jan. 20). (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starship is SpaceX's moonshot — literally. The company has suggested the 160-foot-tall (49 meters) and 30-foot-wide (9 m) vehicle could one day land large groups of people on the moon or Mars. It has also sold tickets to board a future Starship for an orbit around the moon. To do all that will require a far-larger "Super Heavy" booster rocket to loft Starship into space, and that rocket has not yet been built.

For now, SpaceX is focused on developing the Starship vehicle itself. The last prototype, SN8, demonstrated impressive capabilities during a December 2020 test flight. That test saw SN8 loft to the cruising altitude of a jetliner and make a controlled approach to its landing site before exploding on contact, as LiveScience reported at the time. SpaceX hasn’t said what its goals are for this next launch, though a successful landing of the mammoth vehicle could be on the menu.

Originally published on Live Science

Rafi Letzter
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.