Washington D.C., February 9th (Reuters) – Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) took a significant step towards launching its Super Heavy booster, one half of the company’s revolutionary starship rocket system, into orbit. On Thursday, the towering booster was briefly test-fired in a milestone event that was broadcasted through a live stream. This event marks a huge step towards the first orbital flight of the starship rocket in the near future.
The Super Heavy booster is equipped with 33 Raptor rocket engines, and during the test-fire, 31 of these engines were activated and fired for roughly 10 seconds at SpaceX’s rocket facility in south Texas. Following the test, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, tweeted, “31 engines fired overall. Team turned off 1 engine just before start & 1 stopped itself, but still enough engines to reach orbit!” The power and force generated by these 31 engines was nothing short of impressive, with the test-firing setting a new record for the amount of thrust produced by a single rocket. This incredible feat, which produced approximately 17 million pounds of thrust, surpasses the previous records set by the Russian N1 (10.5 million pounds) and NASA’s Space Launch System (8 million pounds).
The Starship rocket system, which stands taller than the Statue of Liberty at nearly 400 feet, is the centerpiece of Elon Musk’s vision of colonizing Mars. The system is made of stainless steel and features 33 Raptor rocket engines, making it more powerful than the Saturn V, the rocket that sent humans to the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo program. The development of the starship rocket system is partially funded by NASA, which plans to use the rocket to land its first crew of astronauts on the moon since 1972, as part of the agency’s multibillion-dollar Artemis program.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated that the first test mission, which will lift off from Texas and land off the coast of Hawaii, could take place “in the next month or so.” However, the exact launch date depends on the outcome of the recent static fire test. Shotwell warned that this first launch is only a test flight and that success will be measured by not blowing up the launch pad.
It remains uncertain whether SpaceX will conduct another static fire test, with all 33 engines, before the powerful next-generation rocket launches into space for the first time. Before the first crewed flight, starship will need to undergo hundreds of uncrewed missions carrying satellites, as stated by Shotwell.
A day prior to SpaceX’s test-fire, NASA test-fired its own redesigned rocket engines, the Aerojet Rocketdyne-built RS-25, which will power the space agency’s Space Launch System rocket. The Space Launch System and the SpaceX starship are the two main rockets that will help put NASA astronauts on the moon in the next decade.