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Musk: SpaceX is now targeting late February/March for 1st orbital launch of Starship

According to a tweet put out by Elon Musk on January 8, 2023, SpaceX is now targeting late February/March for 1st orbital launch of the 24th prototype of Starship and the seventh prototype of Superheavy.

The testing in 2022 has not gone as smoothly as hoped, and is the reason no launch occurred last year:

Super Heavy B7 first left SpaceX’s Starbase factory in March 2022 and has been in a continuous flux of testing, repairs, upgrades, and more testing in the nine months since. The 69-meter-tall (~225 ft), 9-meter-wide (~30 ft) steel rocket was severely damaged at least twice in April and July, requiring weeks of substantial repairs. But neither instance permanently crippled the Starship booster, and Booster 7 testing has been cautious but largely successful since the rocket’s last close call.

Following its return to the OLS [orbital launch site] in early August, Super Heavy B7 has completed six static fire tests of anywhere from one to fourteen of its 33 Raptor engines. It has almost certainly dethroned Falcon Heavy to become the most powerful SpaceX rocket ever tested. And on January 8th, 2023, SpaceX rolled the rocket back to Starbase’s orbital launch site for the seventh time. According to statements made by CEO Elon Musk and a presentation from a NASA official, the last major standalone test between Booster 7 and flight readiness is a full 33-engine static fire. Together, B7’s 33 Raptor 2 engines could produce up to 7600 tons (16.7 million lbf) of thrust at sea level, likely making Starship the most powerful rocket stage in the history of spaceflight.

I had read speculation earlier that it was impossible for SpaceX to do a full 33-engine static fire test because the OLS could not hold the rocket down. That now appears to be incorrect.

Musk’s tweet and proposed schedule should also not be taken with great seriousness. He routinely sets ambitious targets merely to keep the pace fast, even if those targets are not met.

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  • Col Beausabre

    Will the test pull us out of orbit?

  • Ray Van Dune

    Ha, ha Col.! Reminds me of the quip someone made before the first Saturn 5 launch: “We’re not entirely sure whether Saturn is going to go up, or Florida is going to go down!”

    Imagine their reaction to the idea that someday there would be a rocket twice as powerful! It would take 50 years, of course…

  • Richard M

    And, as we speak, Booster 7 and Starship 24 are being stacked on the orbital launch mount at Boca Chica once again.

    I am curious if we’ll see any static fires this week. Hard to think they would stack again if they weren’t going to do that.

    From everything I hear, they really do seem to be *close* to a launch attempt. A lot of the problem in 2022 was not just the accidents with Booster 7, but fixing a lot of mistakes and new lessons learned on the ground systems, beefing up shielding on the OLM. The GSE is such a big part of this architecture, and the learning curve there seems to have been steep. But they look like they’re close, and if the coming round of tests doesn’t blow up anything, a launch this spring seems…not impossible.

  • David Eastman

    Publicly discussed checkpoints/milestones still to be accomplished before launch include a 33 engine static fire, a WDR, and obtaining the launch license. They probably have additional tests they will be doing beyond that, but current speculation is that they aren’t planning to do anything dramatic or new between today’s full stack and the full static fire, it will just be repeats or similar testing to what we’ve seen before to verify the stack is still good. Assuming the full static fire doesn’t break anything, WDR will follow quickly. If both those go smoothly enough that there are no further delays (big if), then the license becomes the long pole. They’ve been working the license for some time now, but I haven’t seen anything on how that’s going and if there is any sense of when it will be issued.

  • Doubting Thomas

    It seems like the decision to build the OLM without a flame diverter and flame trench(es) was a significant judgement error.

    I also keep reading and hearing on different sources that heatshield tiles remain a problem with the vibration of just limited engine static fires shaking them off.

    Still wondering if the launch license will take forever to issue

  • To all: The launch license is definitely the biggest barrier to launch, and I can see no situation where it will be to the advantage of this corrupt federal government to issue it.

    Be prepared for a long wait, or a major public battle from Musk when (not if) that license is unreasonably delayed.

  • John

    Be a shame if the docking clamp broke during the 33 engine static fire and they had to let it fly.

    There was a documentary about this in the 80’s with some kids at space camp and they had to launch the space shuttle.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Also hear on one space Yahoo channel based on a Gizmodo article that expands on the claim and says that first launch won’t occur until OLM is ready at Kennedy Space Center because SpaceX won’t risk problems on first few developmental launches that could raise issues about even establishing a launch site at Boca Chica.

    I’ve tended to wonder about that issue for 3 or 4 years, given the size of the Starship system.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “I had read speculation earlier that it was impossible for SpaceX to do a full 33-engine static fire test because the OLS could not hold the rocket down. That now appears to be incorrect.

    I wouldn’t believe such a thing in the first place. The purpose of the hold-downs is to ensure that the engines successfully reach full thrust before releasing the rocket for launch. If they are unable to hold down the rocket then they cannot do this job. A full 33-engine test would necessarily require that the booster (Super Heavy) be fully fueled and have the weight of the second stage (a fully fueled Starship) so that the hold-downs and the hold-points on the rocket are not overwhelmed by the force of the engines. The hold downs must be able to withstand net forces of the engines less the weight of the rocket.

  • Edward: This is why you are the engineer and I am the space historian.

  • George C

    The whole system, rocket, tie-down, ambient air, must also withstand the vibration modes and huge energy released into those modes. Things can change in a non-linear way with each added engine. Nobody has ever operated a machine of such continuous power.

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