SpaceX Super Heavy Fires Just one of its Engines. Imagine What it’ll be Like When it Fires all 33

Credit: SpaceX

Engineers and technicians at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, are working on getting the fully-stacked Starship and Super Heavy prototypes ready for their orbital launch test. The most recent step consisted of a static fire test with the BN7 Super Heavy prototype, where the booster was placed on the orbital launch pad and fired one of its thirty-three Raptor 2 engines. News of the test was shared via SpaceX’s official Twitter account and showed the BN7 blasting the launch pad, leading many to wonder what the orbital launch test will look like!

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SpaceX Shares an Image of the Super Heavy Booster Bristling With 33 Newly Installed Raptor Engines

Not long ago, SpaceX passed their Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) with the FAA, though many corrective actions were recommended. With this hurdle in its rearview mirror, SpaceX is busy preparing the Starship and Super Heavy prototypes for their orbital test flight. On Saturday (July 2nd), the company posted pictures on its Twitter feed that showed the Starship (SN24) and Super Heavy booster (BN7) outfitted with all the Raptor engines – 33 Raptors for the BN7, 6 for SN24 – that will take them to space.

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SpaceX is now Constructing the Starship Launch Tower at Cape Canaveral

The Starship and Superheavy fully stacked, standing behind the "Mechazilla" tower at Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

Remember Mechazilla, that tall launch tower at the SpaceX Starbase in Texas that will stack Starships and “catch” spent Super Heavy boosters? SpaceX began constructing an identical launch tower at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Starships will also be launching from soon. This tower is taking shape alongside SpaceX’s Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once complete, the launch tower will stand about 146 meters (~480 ft) in height, making it the second-tallest space-related structure on the East Coast, second to NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

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Starship Could be Ready for an Orbital Flight in May

Starship and Super Heavy
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster stand tall on the Starbase launch pad in Texas. Source: SpaceX via YouTube

SpaceX has enjoyed a lot of wins in the past few years. In addition to successfully glide-testing and landing multiple Starship prototypes, they’ve rolled out its first Super Heavy boosters, test-fired the new Raptor Vacuum engines, and assembled the “Mechazilla” launch tower at Boca Chica, Texas. They also unveiled the first fully-furbished orbital test vehicle (SN20) that was stacked with a first stage booster for the first time on its launch pad.

Given the prodigious rate of progress, few were surprised when Musk announced that the first orbital flight test could take place as soon as January 2022. Unfortunately, this date had to be pushed back to an environmental assessment and the usual bureaucratic rigmarole. However, Musk recently announced on Twitter that in light of his company’s success with the new Raptor engines, they could be ready to conduct the long-awaited orbital test flight this May.

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Elon Musk Takes the Long View in Glitzy Update on SpaceX’s Starship Super-Rocket

Starship and Super Heavy
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster stand tall on the Starbase launch pad in Texas. Source: SpaceX via YouTube

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered a long-awaited, live-streamed update on his plans for launching the world’s most powerful rocket, with the spotlighted backdrop of a freshly stacked Starship and Super Heavy booster standing on the launch pad at the company’s Starbase facility in South Texas.

The Starship project is key to Musk’s plans to send thousands of settlers to Mars and make humanity a multiplanet species. It’s also key to his plans to put thousands of satellites in Earth orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, which is supposed to bring in the money needed for Mars missions.

And as if all that’s not enough, Musk expects Starship to revolutionize space travel and society in ways that can’t be foreseen. “When you have an utterly profound breakthrough, the use cases will be hard to imagine,” he told hundreds of attendees during the Feb. 10 presentation at the Boca Chica base.

Musk exhibited his trademark optimism about the launch system’s development schedule, saying that the Federal Aviation Administration could give its go-ahead for the first Starship orbital launch from Texas as soon as next month. But he said there was a Plan B in case that approval didn’t come soon.

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Orbital Launch in January? Elon Musk Updates His Vision for SpaceX’s Starship

Starlink launch from Mars
An artist's conception shows a Starlink rocket lifting off from Mars. (SpaceX Illustration)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has laid out a scenario for space travel that calls for his company’s Starship launch system to take on its first orbital test flight as soon as January.

Starship could go through “a dozen launches next year, maybe more,” and be ready to send valuable payloads to the moon, Mars and even the solar system’s outer planets by 2023, Musk said during a Nov. 17 online meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy.

But he advised against sending anything too valuable on the first flight to Mars. “I would recommend putting the lower-cost scientific mission stuff on the first mission,” he said, half-jokingly.

The National Academies presentation followed up on big-picture talks that Musk delivered in 2016 (when Starship was known as the Interplanetary Transport System), 2017 (when it was known as the BFR or “Big Frickin’ Rocket”) and 2018 (when Musk settled on “Starship”).

Musk’s basic concept is the same: Starship and its giant Super Heavy booster would be a one-size-fits-all system that could be used for point-to-point suborbital travel, orbital space missions and all manner of trips beyond Earth orbit, including moon landings. It’d be capable of lofting more than 100 tons to low Earth orbit (three times as much as the space shuttle), and sending 100 people at a time to Mars.

This week’s presentation provided some new details.

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New Idea: Use the Starship HLS to Create a Lunar Base!

Artist's impression of a modular lunar base built using the SpaceX Lunar Starship. Credit: ISU

Between the multiple space agencies planning to conduct crewed missions to the lunar surface, the many commercial entities who’ve contracted them to assist them, and proposals for lunar bases, the message of the modern space age is clear: We’re going back to the Moon. And this time, we intend to stay! Just like the efforts of the Apollo Era, this entails several challenges, ones that require “the best of our energies and skills.”

These challenges are leading to all sorts of innovative solutions, which recognize the need to leverage lunar resources to provide protection against the environment and see to peoples’ needs. A new proposal made by a team from the International Space University (ISU) has found a novel way to do just that. Their proposal? Use the SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS) as the foundation for a lunar base.

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“Mechazilla” is Getting its Arms. Now it can Catch Starships!

Credit: NASA Spaceflight

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Complex! In addition to the SN 20 prototype completing a static fire test with three of the new Raptor Vacuum 6 engines this month, the facility’s “Mechazilla” Launch Tower recently received a giant pair of steel arms. Once integrated with the ~135m (~450 ft) tower, these arms will be responsible for “catching” spent Starships and Super Heavy boosters as they return to Earth.

The Tower will also prepare missions by stacking first stage boosters with Starships and refueling these elements for the next launch. In this respect, the Launch Tower is a crucial piece of the Orbital Launch Site (OLS) architecture that Elon Musk has planned for Boca Chica. Once the Starship completes its Orbital Flight Test (which could happen soon!), Boca Chica will become a spaceflight hub where launches and retrievals are conducted regularly.

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A Human Mission to Mars Should Last a Maximum of 4 Years

According to a new study, EDLS hardware that has been jettisoned on Mars could create problems for future missions to the same landing sites. Credit: NASA

At one time, the idea of sending humans to Mars either seemed like a distant prospect or something out of science fiction. But with multiple space agencies and even commercial space companies planning to mount missions in the coming decade, the day when humans will go to Mars is fast approaching the point of realization. Before this can happen, several issues need to be resolved first, including a myriad of technical and human factors.

In any discussion about crewed missions to Mars, there are recurring questions about whether or not we can mitigate the threat of radiation. In a new study, an international team of space scientists addressed the question of whether particle radiation would be too great a threat and if radiation could be mitigating through careful timing. In the end, they found that a mission to Mars is doable but that it could not exceed a duration of four years.

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Musk Confirms how “Mechazilla” Will Catch and Assemble Starship and Super Heavy for Rapid Reuse

Credit: Erc X/Twitter

In January of 2021, Elon Musk announced SpaceX’s latest plan to increase the number of flights they can mount by drastically reducing turnaround time. The key to this was a new launch tower that would “catch” first stage boosters after they return to Earth. This would forego the need to install landing legs on future Super Heavy boosters and potentially future Starship returning to Earth.

Musk shared this idea in response to a Tweet made by an animator who goes by the Twitter handle Erc X, who asked if his latest render (of a Starship landing next to its launch tower) was accurate. As usual, Musk responded via Twitter, saying:

“We’re going to try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm, using the grid fins to take the load… Saves mass & cost of legs & enables immediate repositioning of booster on to launch mount—ready to refly in under an hour.”

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