The vehicle is ready, its paperwork is in order, and weather conditions should be reasonably good in south Texas Tuesday. All of this points toward SpaceX attempting to launch its newest Starship prototype—SN15—later this afternoon.
Local officials have authorized a road closure from noon (17:00 UTC) on Tuesday through 8 pm local time (01:00 UTC Wednesday). The end of this closure coincides with sunset at the launch site, which will come shortly after 8 pm. In addition, in its daily operations plan, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the launch is scheduled for Tuesday.
This is an important mission for SpaceX. Already, as part of this experimental test campaign, SpaceX has lost four full-scale Starship prototypes—SN8, SN9, SN10, and SN11—in flights since December. Just one of these four vehicles has made a soft landing, SN10 in early March, but due to a fuel line problem, it exploded about 10 minutes after touchdown.
Engineers have learned from each of these failures, however. And SpaceX has made “hundreds” of upgrades to the current Starship prototype on the launch pad, according to company founder Elon Musk. These include design improvements to the vehicle’s structure, its onboard flight computers, and flight software.
The goal for SN15, as with its predecessors, is to demonstrate the capability to fly to about 10 km and land successfully. If this attempt fails as well, the company has already stacked SN16 in a high-bay building a few kilometers from the launch site, and the prototype is nearly ready to roll to pad.
After demonstrating the ability to land Starship after a high-altitude flight, the next major goal will be to boost the vehicle into orbit. Accordingly, Musk has said the next major upgrade to Starship will come with SN20, which will have a separation system and a heat shield designed to withstand the heating from Earth orbit.
Even as its South Texas factory-beneath-tents churns out Starship prototypes, SpaceX engineers have been working in parallel to assemble a Super Heavy booster prototype to test its launch capabilities. This rocket will be needed to lift Starship into orbit.
SpaceX should provide a webcast of the launch later this afternoon; we will embed it below when it goes live a few minutes before liftoff. In the meantime, NASASpaceflight and LabPadre have ongoing streams to monitor progress toward a launch attempt today.