Elon Musk Dampens Expectations Ahead of SpaceX's Ambitious Starship SN8 Launch

Elon Musk has moved to temper expectations ahead of the keenly anticipated launch of SpaceX's latest Starship spacecraft prototype, SN8.

The Starship spacecraft is one of the most crucial elements of SpaceX's vision for Starship, a fully reusable transport system for interplanetary travel.

Measuring 160 feet in height and 30 feet in diameter, the spacecraft's purpose would be to carry both passengers and cargo.

Unlike SpaceX's previous Starship prototypes, SN8 is fitted with not one but three Raptor engines. It will also be launched multiple orders of magnitude higher than its predecessors.

Whereas the earlier Starship versions have "hopped" approximately 150 meters (490 feet), the SN8 is set to be launched 12.5 kilometers (7.8 miles) into the air above the company's site in Cameron County, Texas.

"SN8's flight test is an exciting next step in the development of a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond," said SpaceX.

"As we venture into new territory, we continue to appreciate all of the support and encouragement we have received."

SpaceX has said that the SN8 will also attempt to perform a "landing flip maneuver," which means it would rotate itself in mid-air before, theoretically, touching down safely.

It's an enormously ambitious project, and Elon Musk doesn't expect SN8 to achieve all of its objectives. While it would certainly dazzle keen SpaceX followers if the launch went off without a hitch, that isn't really the purpose of the test.

Probably 1/3 chance of completing all mission objectives

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 8, 2020

The SN8 isn't the first Starship prototype and nor will it be the last. Its launch will provide SpaceX with huge amounts of data, which will be used to further develop the system.

"This suborbital flight is designed to test a number of objectives, from how the vehicle's three Raptor engines perform to the overall aerodynamic entry capabilities of the vehicle (including its body flaps) to how the vehicle manages propellant transition," said SpaceX.

"SN8 will also attempt to perform a landing flip maneuver, which would be a first for a vehicle of this size.

"With a test such as this, success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship."

The launch had been provisionally scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on December 8, but its start time has been pushed back, with SpaceX saying that its teams are "working through additional test prep."

The company's Tuesday launch window closes at 6 p.m. ET, but if the launch cannot take place, it has the opportunity to try again on Wednesday and Thursday. You can follow the launch live on YouTube.

spacex owner elon musk
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet of the Axel Springer Award 2020 on December 1, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. For the first time, SpaceX is set to launch a version of its Starship spacecraft with more than one Raptor engine. Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images