SpaceX has completed record-breaking testing of the Starship booster and rolled a new super heavy prototype to the launch pad in the space of a few hours.
Nearly six weeks after the steady-fire test campaign of SpaceX’s Super Heavy Booster 7 began, the company has broken new ground by simultaneously igniting seven Raptor engines at once. A few hours later, confirming SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plans in real time, the company delivered a second super heavy prototype (Booster 8) from the factory to the launch pad, where it joined Booster 7.
According to Musk, those rockets will soon switch places, ensuring no time is wasted, while SpaceX continues to slowly work toward Starship’s first orbital launch efforts.
Booster 7 began the most critical phase of its airworthiness process on 9 and 11 August with two back-to-back steady fires, each igniting only one of the 20 installed Raptor engines. Both appeared to be successful, and SpaceX returned the B7 to its Boca Chica, Texas factory, reinstalled a full set of 33 engines, and two weeks later sent the Super Heavy back to the launch pad.
On August 31, SpaceX attempted to ignite three of Booster 7’s 33 Raptors. One engine failed to ignite, but the other did not, resulting in a mostly successful two-engine test. Over the next two weeks, SpaceX conducted several ignition-free ‘spin-prime’ tests, two of which appeared to spin all 33 engines without them. cause of explosion, Finally, SpaceX telegraphed its next major target on September 16 with a seven-engine spin-prime test and another (albeit with one) Slightly different set of engines) on 19 September.
Shortly after the second seven-engine spin-prime, SpaceX refilled Booster 7 with propellant, went back through the same process, and ignited those same seven engines for about five seconds. No apparent problems arose, and Musk later said that the test went well. This set a new record for the largest number of Raptors fired simultaneously on a single prototype and possibly also broke the record for the highest thrust produced by a vehicle tested at Starbase.
If all seven advanced Raptor V2 engines were operating at full throttle, they could briefly produce over 1600 tonnes (~3.6M lbf) of thrust – roughly the equivalent of two Falcon 9 boosters. Measuring approximately 69 m (~225 ft) long and 9 m (~30 ft) wide, the Super Heavy will be the most powerful liquid rocket booster ever built when it ignites 20 of its 33 engines at full thrust.
In an increasingly rare update, Musk revealed that SpaceX will once again return Booster 7 to Starbase’s factory for mysterious “robust upgrades” after the latest round of testing. Musk doesn’t think those upgrades will take very long, and anticipates that Starbase’s “next big test” will be the first full wet dress rehearsal of a fully assembled two-stage Starship, followed by Super Heavy’s first 33 – The engine will. Stable fire test, “in a few weeks.”
Most likely, each step of that process will take several attempts and uncover issues that will need to be fixed and verified over the course of several months. But with Starship 24 already completing a full six-engine steady fire, there’s a small chance SpaceX will find itself with a fully stacked Starship that’s more or less ready for its first orbital launch attempt by the end of October. Is.
Meanwhile, after Booster 7 returns to the factory, Booster 8 — finally completed after a relatively slow six-month assembly — will kick off basic proof testing at SpaceX’s South Texas Orbital Launch Site. SpaceX wasted no time preparing for that swap and delivered Booster 8 to the pad just seven hours after Booster 7’s seven-engine steady fire. If things go more smoothly than the B7, it’s likely the B8 will complete the proof test and the Raptor is ready to go back to the factory for installation by the time the B7 upgrade is finished – a very efficient Transition if it works that way.