SpaceX chief Elon Musk says the company’s next-generation Super Heavy rocket and Starship spacecraft is on course for a March launch.
“If remaining tests go well, we will attempt a Starship launch next month,” Musk said in a tweet a few days ago, following up a short while later with: “Success is far from certain, but excitement is guaranteed.”
The test will involve launching the vehicle — collectively known as Starship — from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on its maiden orbital flight. While future missions envisage both the rocket and spacecraft landing at the end of a flight so that they can be used in additional missions, for the upcoming test both sections will come down in the Pacific Ocean.
The excitement that Musk speaks of will come not only from seeing the most powerful rocket ever blasting to space for the first time, but also because the mission will mark a major step forward for NASA as it seeks to build a habitable base on the moon and, possibly in the 2030s, send the first humans to Mars as part of the Artemis program.
But as Musk also noted, testing a new rocket for the first time is a huge challenge. While a failure at launch or in flight would be a setback for SpaceX, such missions are designed to provide data and surface issues, giving engineers the chance to perfect the system ahead of a cargo-carrying mission to the moon.
In preparation for the test flight, the team successfully completed an important pre-launch procedure about two weeks ago when they filled the tanks with fuel and performed a mock countdown in what’s known in the industry as a “wet dress rehearsal.”
Additional pre-launch procedures include a static fire test of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor 2 engines. It’s these engines that will collectively produce about 17,000 pounds of thrust at launch, almost double that of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which last November became the most powerful rocket ever to launch when it propelled the Orion spacecraft on a flight around the moon as part of the first Artemis mission.
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