As part of its Mars rocket launch campaign, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) on Friday lifted the Super Heavy Booster prototype of its next-generation Starship rocket with a crane at its test facility in Boca Chica, Australia. Texas. Unlike its Falcon 9 rockets which are assembled before being sent to the launchpad, SpaceX plans to lift the two pieces of Starship onto the launchpad itself, and to do this the company has built a large structure of crane. Starship’s operational profile involves SpaceX landing its thrusters on the pad, retrofitting them for flight, and then lifting the spacecraft onto the thruster. The Super Heavy booster was rolled out to the pad earlier this week, and it’s the first prototype that’s nearly fully assembled – many hope it will also be the one to make the rocket’s first launch attempt later this year.
SpaceX nears static-firing test of largest US-built rocket to date
SpaceX’s current rocket – the Falcon 9 – uses nine Merlin engines to carry payloads as heavy as 23 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO). With Starship, the company plans to increase that figure fivefold by using more and bigger engines and different materials. While the Falcon 9’s Merlin 1D+ engine is capable of generating 221,000 pounds-force (lbf) of thrust, the Raptor 2 engines installed on Starship can push 510,000 lbf of thrust, more than double the amount generated with the Merlin.
Additionally, not only is the Raptor 2 significantly more powerful, but unlike the nine engines found on the Falcon 9, the Starship Super Heavy booster has 33 Raptor 2 engines. This allows the rocket to aim for up to 100 tons at LEO , nearly five times the capacity of the Falcon 9. SpaceX’s other rocket, the Falcon Heavy with 27 Merlin engines can fly up to 64 tons to LEO.
SpaceX rolled out its latest Super Heavy booster to the Boca Chica, Texas launch pad yesterday, after which it was lifted by a crane onto the pad. The booster is 270 feet tall, 30 feet in diameter and is expected to weigh up to 200 tons according to SpaceX chief Elon Musk.
Musk’s company advanced in its attempt to launch an orbital Starship test earlier this month as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed an environmental review of the facilities. Still, although SpaceX can perform static firing tests of its rockets, which involve testing their engines on the ground as well as low-altitude flight tests, it will need additional FAA approval to launch the vehicles into orbit.
When it comes to static fires, it looks like SpaceX is moving fast – just as its culture is designed to be. A purported maritime safety bulletin released Friday by the United States Coast Guard (shared on Twitter) informs readers that from June 27 to June 30, a danger zone will be present around the SpaceX facilities from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Another copy of the newsletter can be accessed here.
Additionally, local authorities also announced road closures for the highway and Boca Chica beach on June 27 and 28, for the same duration.
A static firing test is absolutely crucial for a Starship scale rocket. This will make SpaceX comfortable with the complex operations that lead to rocket refueling, and more importantly, it will also allow the company to verify relevant systems on the booster. A different previous test resulted in the same booster’s fuel pipe being bent, after which SpaceX fixed it within weeks.