SpaceX is aiming to launch its latest Starship rocket prototype as early as “next week,” CEO Elon Musk said on Tuesday, in what would be the company’s most ambitious flight test of the rocket to date.
Musk confirmed that Starship prototype Serial Number 8, or SN8, successfully completed a test firing of its three engines ahead of the flight attempt. This next launch is aiming to reach about 50,000 feet altitude – well above the 500 foot flights of the prototype’s predecessors SN5 and SN6, which completed flight tests on Aug. 5 and Sept. 3, respectively.
The prototypes are built of stainless steel and represent the first versions of the rocket that Musk unveiled last year. The company is developing Starship with the goal of launching cargo and as many as a 100 people at a time on missions to the Moon and Mars.
SpaceX is aiming to pass several further development milestones with Starship SN8’s flight.
“Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip,” Musk said in a tweet.
Asked what he thought about chances of the Starship prototype landing intact after the flight, Musk gave SN8 low odds of complete success on the first try.
“Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance,” Musk said.
“But that’s why we have SN 9 & SN10,” Musk added.
Those later prototypes are already in progress at SpaceX’s growing facility in Boca Chica, Texas. While SpaceX’s fleet of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are partially reusable, Musk’s goal is to make Starship fully reusable — envisioning a rocket that is more akin to a commercial airplane, with short turnaround times between flights where the only major cost is fuel.
Musk said that SN9 and SN10 feature “many small improvements,” with “major upgrades” planned once SpaceX begins work on prototype SN15.
After SpaceX in May launched a pair of NASA astronauts in its first crewed mission, Musk pivoted the company’s attention, declaring that the top SpaceX priority is now development of Starship. Musk said in an email obtained by CNBC that Starship’s program must accelerate “dramatically and immediately.”
Last year Musk said that Starship could potentially fly people in 2020, but he’s since acknowledged that the rocket still has many milestones, including “hundreds of missions,” to go before that happens. SpaceX expects Starship’s first orbital flight test won’t come until next year.
Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis, and live business day programming from around the world.