Science

SpaceX launches Starship Super Heavy booster again in long engine test

SpaceX has really begun testing Starship flight hardware.

Elon Musk’s company is gearing up for the first-ever orbital test of the Starship, a reusable vehicle consisting of a huge Super Heavy booster and an upper-stage spacecraft known as the Starship.

SpaceX is aiming to make this debut orbital jump from its South Texas Starbase between September 1 and March 1 using the Booster 7 Super Heavy prototype and the Ship 24 Starship. Both Booster 7 and Ship 24 breathed fire on Tuesday (Aug. 9) in a “static fire” test, briefly igniting their Raptor engines while remaining anchored on the ground.

Photos: SpaceX lifts huge Super Heavy rocket to launch pad

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Action intensified on Thursday (Aug. 11) for Launcher 7, which fired a much longer static fire at Starbase’s orbital launcher. The burn, which occurred at 3:48 pm EDT (1948 GMT), lasted 21 seconds, according to NASASpaceflight.com commentators who broadcast the test live. (will open in a new tab).

According to Musk’s post, the prolonged burning was intended to “test autogenous pressure buildup.” (will open in a new tab) shortly before the launch of Booster 7.

On both Tuesday and Thursday, the Booster 7 booster fired just one of its 33 Raptor engines — every day, according to NASASpaceflight.com. Ship 24, by contrast, fired on two of its six Raptors on Tuesday during a static fire.

Presumably, SpaceX will fire more and more vehicle engines simultaneously as the test campaign continues.

SpaceX sees Starship as a potentially groundbreaking achievement that could help humanity gain a foothold on the Moon and Mars. NASA also sees promise in this lander, choosing Starship as the first crewed lander for its Artemis lunar exploration program.

The upcoming orbital test flight is an important step along the way. If all goes according to plan on this mission, Booster 7 will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after liftoff, and Ship 24 will complete one orbit around the Earth before descending into the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

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).

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