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SpaceX rolls Super Heavy booster to launchpad for key test

SpaceX’s next-generation Super Heavy booster has been transported to the orbital launchpad at its Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas ahead of its first static fire test using all 33 of its Raptor engines.

The journey from its shelter to the launchpad took place on Thursday and came 10 days after SpaceX received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to proceed with launch preparations following a lengthy environmental review.

SpaceX shared several photos (below) of the massive Super Heavy booster being carefully transported to the launchpad. Engineers walking close to the Super Heavy indicate the true scale of the 229-feet-tall booster, though the vehicle will extend to 394 feet when the second-stage Starship is placed on top.

Super Heavy Booster 7 with 33 Raptor engines installed was transported to the orbital launch pad at Starbase

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 23, 2022

A static fire test involves securing the reusable rocket firmly to the ground before firing its engines for a short while to test that the vehicle is properly functioning.

While SpaceX has already performed a static fire test of a small number of the Super Heavy’s Raptor engines, it’s yet to ignite all 33 at the same time. If it’s able to do so, it should be a spectacular sight. That’s because the rocket is capable of 17 million pounds of thrust, making it the most powerful space vehicle ever to fly when it eventually lifts off.

The static fire procedure could take place in the coming days. If it goes well and the FAA grants SpaceX a final permit for launch, the company could send the first-stage Super Heavy and second-stage Starship spacecraft — collectively known as the Starship — on its first orbital test flight in late July or early August.

Ultimately, SpaceX wants to use the Starship for crewed missions to the lunar surface. SpaceX is one of a number of commercial space companies working with NASA on its Artemis program, an initiative set to usher in a new era of human space exploration with crewed visits to the moon and possibly Mars.

The current timeline suggests NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface no earlier than 2025 using a modified Starship spacecraft, while the first crewed visit to Mars could take place in the late 2030s or early 2040s.

But for now, all eyes are on the Super Heavy as it approaches a key static fire test and an even more crucial maiden orbital flight.

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Trevor Mogg
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