Starship aced a critical fueling test this week

Starship: Bright lights shine on a tall silver rocket next to an openwork metal gantry.
A SpaceX Starship awaits a fueling test at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX completed a critical fueling test, a milestone on the path to a full orbital flight test, on January 23, 2023. Image via SpaceX.

Starship: Fill ‘er up!

SpaceX completed a successful “flight-like” wet dress rehearsal of the Starship spacecraft’s fueling system this week (Monday, January 23, 2023). Starship is to be the world’s first fully reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle. It stands 390 feet (120 meters) tall and has more than twice the thrust of the mighty Saturn V rockets that carried astronauts to the moon 50 years ago. Monday’s test marked one of the final milestones on the path to Starship’s first orbital test flight. SpaceX is now saying an uncrewed first flight could happen as soon as late February or March.

The testing took place at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility. Afterwards, SpaceX shared a video on Twitter announcing the successful loading and unloading of a staggering 10 million pounds (4.5 million kg) or so of liquid fuels into the stacked spacecraft:

The components tested together Monday were Booster 7 (B7) and the second-stage craft Starship 24 (SN24). When mated into a behemoth rocketship – the world’s tallest, as SpaceX likes to say – the two craft are also referred to collectively (and a bit confusingly) as the Starship.

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Burn, baby! Burn!

Another critical test remains. Before Starship can take to space, B7 will be anchored to the Earth while all 33 of its mighty Raptor engines are fired to make sure it can handle the power.

Collectively, SpaceX says a Starship booster’s engines create 17 million pounds (7,590 tons) of thrust. That’s roughly equivalent to 40.8 million horsepower or about “70 percent of the global horse population,” according to users at Reddit’s r/SpaceXLounge.

In anticipation of the test, SpaceX has already unstacked SN24, moving it to a safe location away from the testbed and the possibility of damage at this late date. The company shared images of SN24 yesterday (Wednesday, January 25, 2023) cradled by the mechanized arms – the chopsticks – attached to the Mechazilla launch and retrieval tower:

The company has yet to announce a date for the full test firing. Last month, B7 underwent a 14-engine static firing test. shared video via YouTube:

Can I see your license, please?

Once a successful final engine test is complete, a last hurdle remains: getting an experimental license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

SpaceX has already fulfilled all of the FAA’s requirements for the license, excluding the final engine firing test. In June, the FAA announced SpaceX had agreed to steps to mitigate the environmental impact of its launches, signaling the permitting process was largely complete.

Once the FAA license is granted, Starship can fly.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk – currently known as Mr. Tweet after he changed his name on the Twitter platform he owns and was prohibited from changing it back (what a guy!) – said the world’s biggest rocket is ready to fly:

Responding to a Twitter user’s estimated timeline, Musk agreed Starship could fly in February or March:

Bottom line: SpaceX’s Starship completed a milestone fueling test this week.

January 27, 2023

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