SpaceX’s giant Starship vehicle just took a huge step toward its first-ever orbital test flight, which could take place as soon as next month.
The goal was to fire all 33 Raptors during the test, which occurred at 4:13 p.m. EST (2113 GMT; 3:13 p.m. local Texas time). But SpaceX will take it.
“Team turned off 1 engine just before start & 1 stopped itself, so 31 engines fired overall. But still enough engines to reach orbit!” company founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter (opens in new tab) just after the test wrapped up.
The static fire lasted about seven seconds, the duration that SpaceX had mapped out beforehand, according to the company (opens in new tab). And Booster 7 emerged from the huge cloud of kicked-up dust in one piece, which is something to celebrate as well.
SpaceX views Starship as a potentially revolutionary transportation system, one that could make Mars colonization and other ambitious off-Earth feats economically feasible. The stainless-steel vehicle consists of two elements: A giant booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft known as Starship.
Both Starship and Super Heavy are designed to be fully reusable, and both are powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine — 33 for the booster and six for the upper stage.
For months, SpaceX has been preparing Booster 7 and a Starship prototype called Ship 24 for an orbital flight test. Such work has included a fueling test with the duo, which the company achieved on Jan. 23, and a number of static fires — prelaunch trials in which engines are ignited briefly while a vehicle remains anchored to the ground.
Ship 24 fired up all six of its Raptors at Starbase last September, for example, and Booster 7 ignited 14 of its 33 engines two months later. That was the big first stage’s static-fire high until today’s test, which apparently checked a crucial box on the road to an orbital attempt.
That highly anticipated flight could occur as early as next month, provided today’s test went as well as it appeared to (a verdict SpaceX won’t render before analyzing all the data) and remaining checkouts go well, founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
During that test mission, the Booster 7-Ship 24 duo will become the most powerful rocket ever to fly, taking the mantle from NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which debuted Nov. 16 on the agency’s Artemis 1 moon mission.
SLS generated 8.8 million pounds of thrust on that liftoff. Super Heavy’s 33 Raptors produce about 16.5 million pounds of thrust at full power, according to SpaceflightNow (opens in new tab).
Booster 7 will come back to Earth in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after liftoff, if all goes according to the test-flight plan. Ship 24 will circle our planet once and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
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).