Starship aced a critical fueling test this week
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:
Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal at Starbase today. This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant pic.twitter.com/btprGNGZ1G
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 24, 2023
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:
Launch and catch tower destacked Ship 24 from Booster 7 on the orbital pad today ahead of the Booster’s static fire test pic.twitter.com/JPcKh7fcvp
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 26, 2023
The company has yet to announce a date for the full test firing. Last month, B7 underwent a 14-engine static firing test. NASASpaceflight.com 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:
Starship launch attempt soon pic.twitter.com/QBprVsAH7m
— Mr. Tweet (@elonmusk) January 12, 2023
Responding to a Twitter user’s estimated timeline, Musk agreed Starship could fly in February or March:
Does this sound about right, Elon?
Cryotest today, then WDR next week. Destack for 33 engine Static Fire. Final TPS work on Ship 24. Re-stack. Launch License.
Possible end of Feb/Early March if all goes well (per your previous timeline)?
— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 12, 2023
Bottom line: SpaceX’s Starship completed a milestone fueling test this week.