SpaceX’s Starship Mars rocket is doing some work to prepare for its upcoming orbital launch attempt.
SpaceX plans to launch this test flight – the first orbital mission for the Starship program – in late October or November. It will use Booster 7 and Ship 24, the prototypes of the Super Heavy Starship first stage and Starship upper stage, respectively.
SpaceX has been testing “static fire” engines with both vehicles at its Starbase in South Texas for the past six weeks or so. On Monday (September 19), for example, Booster 7 ignited seven of its 33 Raptor engines, more than ever before at the same time.
Video: SpaceX launches multiple engines for the first time on Starship Super Heavy
(Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)
Presumably, SpaceX will finalize to full static fire 33 Raptor with booster 7 before attempting orbit. But that buildup will have to wait at least a while as Booster 7 is no longer on the court.
“Booster 7 has been flown back to the Starship factory to improve pre-flight reliability,” SpaceX said in a Twitter post. (will open in a new tab) Thursday (September 22). The post featured a 30-second slow-motion video of a 230-foot-tall (70-metre) booster making the journey, escorted by a fleet of cars and trucks.
SpaceX is developing Starship to carry cargo and people to the Moon and eventually Mars. NASA has already signed up for a lunar trip, choosing Starship as the first crewed lander for its Artemis lunar exploration program. Starship will take astronauts to the lunar south pole as part of the Artemis 3 mission, which NASA plans to launch in 2025.
The two elements of Starship are designed to be fully and quickly reusable, a key breakthrough that company founder and CEO Elon Musk believes will make colonizing Mars economically viable.
SpaceX is also looking to Starship to launch the next version of its Starlink internet satellites, which will be much larger and more powerful than the current version. SpaceX plans to begin launching the Starlink Version 2 spacecraft, which can stream services directly to smartphones, in 2023, Musk said.
If all goes according to plan, the upcoming test flight of Ship 24 will make one circle around the Earth before landing in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 will descend into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of South Texas shortly after liftoff.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).