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SpaceX preps for final engine tests before first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight

Capitalism in space: Having moved its 7th prototype Superheavy booster to the launch pad in Boca Chica even as its installs the six Raptor engines on the 24th prototype of Starship, SpaceX is now about to begin the final engines tests prior to the first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight.

For the first time the chopstick arms on the launch tower were used to lift and place the Superheavy booster onto the pad. It is expected that static fire tests of its 33 Raptor engines could begin within the next few weeks.

The orbital Starship meanwhile is still in the assembly building, where engineers are installing its own six Raptor engines.

Though SpaceX has not made public the exact schedule of tests leading to launch, it is expected that the company will do a short static fire test program with Superheavy alone, and then do a follow-up short series of tests once the Starship prototype is stacked on top. Based on past history, if the tests show no problems SpaceX will quickly move to launch. Though there have been indications that it is targeting July, it would not be surprising if that date slips to August.

The race between Starship and SLS for which will get into orbit first appears to be tightening.

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  • geoffc

    Sadly, unless they change their stated plans, it is not clear that Starship will actually launch to an orbit. Rather it will only do half an orbit or so to hit the ocean near Hawaii. Not sure how that is going to count in your orbital count, nor in the Starship vs SLS orbital race.

    But I for one look forward to seeing it regardless!

  • pawn

    I hope Elon does the static fire with #24 on top. I am really worried about the robustness of the TPS system.

  • John hare

    It may be a race to first flight. Second and beyond is pretty much a given.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Both boosters, SLS stage 1 and Starship Superheavy, will boost their upper stages to a high but non-orbital altitude. Then one will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up and/or crash into the sea. The other will turn around, fly back to the launch site, be caught in mid-air and replaced on the launch mount for re-use. But the first one is the far bigger achievement, because even though it is less powerful, it has so far cast orders of magnitude more, and will fly only once a year.

  • Ray Van Dune

    “it has so far COST orders of magnitude more”


  • Matt in AZ

    Ship24 has the satellite pez-dispenser installed. Are there plans to actually test it out on this flight with a test Starlink 2.0 deployment? If there were to be a test satellite deployed, and if it were able to achieve a single orbit on its own, this would meet the minimum requirement for an orbital payload launch.

  • That first orbital test of Starship will be an orbital flight, even though it will not complete a full orbit. They simply will bring it back early so as to land it where they want, northeast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

  • Jeremy, Alabama

    Hi Geoffc – I believe Musk has said there is no essential difference between a half orbit and a full one, just a few m/s. The half-orbit is by design, to test reentry from basically orbital speed as quickly as possible.

    I think this discussion is on one of Everyday Astronaut’s recent interviews. Musk was hilarious – asked what would make a successful test, he started from reentry, and then backed up to getting to orbit, to getting a successful separation. Finally he said so long as the vehicle cleared the tower without blowing up, that would be a success.

  • Ray Van Dune

    That reminds me of how Musk defined “success” on the first Falcon Heavy test… that it would get high enough so that it didn’t destroy the pad when it blew up!

  • Edward

    geoffc wrote: “Sadly, unless they change their stated plans, it is not clear that Starship will actually launch to an orbit. Rather it will only do half an orbit or so to hit the ocean near Hawaii.

    I was under the impression that Starship would achieve orbital velocity but in an elliptical orbit that had a perigee that brought it down north of Kauai, Hawaii, north west of the big island. Did I misunderstand the plan?

  • Edward: That was my understanding, though you are more versed in the technical/engineering details.

  • Ray Van Dune

    In my informal opinion you would need two qualities to say you have made orbit. One is sufficient velocity, but the other is sufficient altitude to ensure that the perigee does not occur low enough to cause immediate re-entry. If Starship re-enters in less than one complete orbit without need of using retro-thrust, it did not technically achieve orbit.
    That being said, I don’t think it is a significant distinction if indeed the purpose of the fractional orbit is simply to test the TPS near Hawaii, rather than waiting many more orbits to re-enter at another convenient location. It will be interesting to see if the ship does a retro-fire, or not, but even more interesting will be if the booster returns and uses the chopsticks!

  • Edward

    I’m not so sure about being up to date on SpaceX details, as I am not enough of a fanboy to do all the work of searching out all the latest news. I enjoy Tim Dodd, who studies the [ahem] out of each topic, and Scott Manley, who seems to keep up with a lot of space topics, but I don’t spend as much time as I could on other sites, such as I can easily miss some things that SpaceX is up to. Which leads me to:

    Ray Van Dune,
    The last flight plan that I know about is a year old, when SpaceX told the FAA that they would drop the first SuperHeavy into the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles offshore. Unless they file another plan, it is poor form to change the planned route without notification, as the FAA goes to the trouble of setting up a keep-out zone for aircraft and watercraft.

    I expect that SpaceX wants to confirm SuperHeavy’s performance before getting it anywhere near their (literally) precious* launch tower and its “chopsticks.”

    * precious
    1. (of an object, substance, or resource) of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly: precious works of art | my time is precious.

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