We may not have to wait too long for the first-ever orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Starship deep-space transportation system.
SpaceX expands Spatialship to transport people and goods to Mars, the moon and other distant destinations. The system consists of two elements, both designed to be fully and quickly reusable: a massive first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) spacecraft called Starship.
The starship prototypes performed a handful of high altitude test flights to date, but the vehicle has not yet been launched into orbit. SpaceX plans to change this soon; the company is preparing to launch an orbital test mission with the system, which will also mark Super Heavy’s spaceflight debut.
Pictures: SpaceX lifts a massive Super Heavy rocket onto a launch pad
And these preparations are accelerating. Ship 24, the Starship vehicle that will carry out the orbital mission, has just rolled out to the launch pad at Starbase, SpaceX’s facility in South Texas, company representatives announced via Twitter today (opens in a new tab) (July 6). In that same post, SpaceX shared three photos of the large spacecraft in motion.
Ship 24 will be launched atop a Super Heavy known as Booster 7. This rocket is already on the pad and can perform a static fire test – a pre-launch test in which the engines of a rocket are on while the vehicle remains anchored to the ground – in the future. days.
Starship and Super Heavy are powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine. The spacecraft sports six Raptors, and the booster features 33, as SpaceX showed in another recent Twitter post (opens in a new tab) who shared photos of the two vehicles with all their engines installed.
For comparison, SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket incorporates nine of the company’s Merlin engines in its first stage and one Merlin in its upper stage. And Merlins are considerably smaller and less powerful than Raptors.
SpaceX recently cleared a significant regulatory hurdle on the way to Starship’s first orbital launch: Last month, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that SpaceX could continue his Starship work at Starbaseprovided that the company takes more than 75 actions to mitigate the effects of these works on the surrounding area, which is a biodiversity hotspot.
There are, however, other such boxes to check; for example, the FAA must still grant SpaceX a launch license before the next orbital attempt.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).