SpaceX’s “chopsticks” have been busy lately, and a new video shows them in action.
The chopsticks are arms attached to “Mechazilla,” the launch tower at Starbase, SpaceX‘s facility in South Texas. Mechazilla lifts and lowers Super Heavy boosters and Starship spacecraft — the two elements of SpaceX’s giant, next-generation Starship vehicle — onto Starbase’s orbital launch mount using the chopsticks, as the new video shows.
The video, which SpaceX tweeted out on Friday (Oct. 21), captures the stacking of Ship 24 atop Booster 7 on Thursday (Oct. 20). SpaceX is prepping this duo for the Starship program’s first-ever orbital test flight, which could happen in the next few months if testing goes well.
Launch and catch tower stacking Starship at Starbase pic.twitter.com/KOpX8tZMHhOctober 21, 2022
“Launch and catch tower stacking Starship at Starbase,” SpaceX wrote in Friday’s tweet (opens in new tab).
As that note indicates, Mechazilla is envisioned to be a multipurpose structure, hosting Starship touchdowns as well as liftoffs. If all goes according to plan, the giant tower will eventually catch returning Super Heavy vehicles (opens in new tab), using the chopsticks to support the boosters beneath their steering “grid fins,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
Mechazilla will then place Super Heavy directly onto the orbital launch mount, potentially enabling incredibly short turnaround times for Starship missions, according to Musk. (SpaceX is already known for the frequent reuse of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, but these boosters touch down in landing zones or on ships at sea and then must be transported back to the launch pad.)
Thursday’s stacking of Ship 24 atop Booster 7 was actually a restacking, as the duo were first joined up on Oct. 11. Mechazilla de-stacked them on Oct. 16, presumably so SpaceX could perform some additional tests or maintenance work.
And a fair bit of work remains before Booster 7 and Ship 24 will be ready for their orbital moment. For example, SpaceX has yet to fire up all 33 of Booster 7’s Raptor engines; the company has been performing “static fire” tests with the rocket but so far has ignited a maximum of seven engines simultaneously. And none of the Booster 7 engine tests have occurred with Ship 24 attached.
SpaceX isn’t focusing all of its Starship energies on this particular duo; the company continues to build and test other prototypes as well. For example, SpaceX rolled the Ship 25 vehicle out to Starbase’s suborbital launch pad on Wednesday (Oct. 19), as NASASpaceflight’s Jack Beyer noted (opens in new tab).
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).