SpaceX fires up a giant Starship rocket in crucial platform test

SpaceX is one big step closer to putting its giant Starship spacecraft into orbit, completing an engine-firing test on the launch pad on Thursday.

Thirty-one of 33 first-stage booster engines ignited simultaneously for about 10 seconds in South Texas. The team shut down one engine before sending the firing order and another engine shut down, “but there are still enough engines to reach orbit!” SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeted.

Musk estimates that Starship’s first orbital test flight could happen as early as March, if test analyzes and remaining preparations go well.

The reinforcement remained anchored to the pad as intended during the test. There were no signs of major damage to the launch tower.

SpaceX fires 31 of 33 Raptor engines during a Starship Booster static fire test at the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas
SpaceX conducts a Starship booster static fire test on the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas on February 9, 2023.Michael Roberts/AP

NASA is counting on Starship to transport astronauts to the moon’s surface in a few years, connecting with its Orion capsule in lunar orbit. Later, Musk wants to use the gigantic starships to send crowds to Mars.

For Thursday’s test, only the first stage’s Super Heavy booster was used, with a height of 69 meters (230 feet). The futuristic second stage, the part that will actually land on the Moon and Mars, was in the hangar preparing for flight.

In total, Starship rises 394 feet (120 meters), making it the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. It is capable of generating 17 million pounds of liftoff thrust, nearly double that of NASA’s moon rocket that sent an empty capsule to the Moon and back late last year.

SpaceX fired up to 14 Starship engines last fall and completed a fuel test on the pad last month.

Flocks of birds scattered as the Starship’s engines sprang to life, sending thick plumes of dark smoke through the Starship launch complex, dubbed Starbase. It is located in the southern tip of Texas, near the town of Boca Chica, near the border with Mexico.

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