The maiden flight of the SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype has been delayed in order to swap out two of the vehicle’s three Raptor engines.
SpaceX completed a series of three static fire tests of the SN9 prototype on January 13 at the launch provider’s Boca Chica development facility in Texas. The three tests all appeared to go as planned hinting at a clear path towards the prototype’s maiden flight.
Following post-test inspections of the SN9 prototype, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced on January 15 that two of the SN9 prototype’s Raptor engines required “slight repairs” and would need to be swapped out.
Prior to the launch of the SN8 prototype in December 2020, one of the vehicle’s three engines was swapped out. The process took roughly 26 days. If this timeframe is anything to go by, the maiden flight of the SN9 prototype is unlikely to occur this month.
Answering a question from the Everyday Astronaut on Twitter, Musk did however offer some hope. The mercurial SpaceX CEO revealed that teams were working on major improvements to reduce the time required to perform Starship engine swaps. He said that the goal was to be able to perform Raptor engine swap-outs in just a few hours.
If any of the improvements Musk was referring to are part of the SN9 prototype’s setup, SpaceX may be able to return to the launchpad this month. However, Musk added that once the engine swaps had been completed, the vehicle would likely require additional static fire tests before its maiden flight.
SN9 is a prototype of the SpaceX Starship vehicle that will act as the upper stage of the launch provider’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket. Starship will be stacked atop the Super Heavy booster which will power the upper stage into orbit before returning to Earth for reuse. The first prototype of the Super Heavy booster is currently under construction at the Boca Chica facility.