SpaceX launched the massive launch vehicle for its new Starship spacecraft on Monday night (July 19) in a short first-of-its-kind test of the company’s ambitious new launch system.
A towering stainless steel booster, dubbed Super Heavy, fired three Raptor engines in a brief “static firing” test at SpaceX’s Starbase site in southern Texas, near the village of Boca Chica. Booster 3, as this Super Heavy is known, is the latest in a series of prototypes of the SpaceX Starship program, which aims to develop a fully reusable launch system for flights to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
“A full-fledged launch of the 3 Raptor on a super-heavy booster,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Monday evening. Twitter… When asked about the chances of further testing the rocket, Musk added: “Depending on our progress with Booster 4, we can try starting engine 9 on Booster 3.”
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If nine engines is a lot, that’s the number that SpaceX uses in the first stage of every Falcon 9 rocket. The company’s Falcon Heavy rocket, consisting of three boosters and an upper stage, fires 27 engines together during launch. At the same time, the Starship’s heavyweight booster is expected to be powered by more than 30 engines during launch.
The SpaceX Super Heavy rocket is designed to be reusable as a first stage booster to launch the massive Starship spacecraft into orbit. It is 230 feet (70 meters) high and will eventually carry the 165 feet (50 meters) high Starship spacecraft when SpaceX attempts its first orbital flight.
In May, SpaceX successfully launched and landed the Starship on a test flight that reached an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). The company said it plans to launch the first orbital flight from Starship this summer, pending tests of the launch vehicle.
Musk said the Booster 3 Super Heavy rocket will likely not fly into space and will instead be used for ground testing. Its successor, Booster 4, will be the first to launch Starship. This test flight will launch a Starship prototype from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas to a target area near Kauai Island, Hawaii, while a super-heavy launch vehicle is sprayed into the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to rebuild both its super-heavy and spacecraft for refitting, as is usually done with Falcon 9 boosters.
The SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy rockets form the core of the company’s plans for its future deep space missions. NASA has selected SpaceX to land astronauts on the moon as part of the Artemis agency program, and SpaceX has already sold another spaceship around the moon to Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.
Musk wants to use Starships to send astronauts to Mars and said the spacecraft could be fully launched by 2023 if tests are successful.
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