SpaceX has completed a record-breaking test of a spacecraft booster and launched a new Super Heavy prototype to the launchpad within hours of each other.
Nearly six weeks after SpaceX launched the Super Heavy Booster 7 static fire test campaign, the company broke new ground by simultaneously firing up seven Raptor engines at once. Hours later, confirming in real time the plans of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the company transported a second Super Heavy prototype (Booster 8) from the factory to the launch pad, where it joined Booster 7.
According to Musk, those rockets will soon switch places, ensuring no time is wasted as SpaceX continues to work incrementally toward Starship’s first orbital launch attempts.
Booster 7 kicked off the most important step in its flight qualification process on August 9 and 11 with two consecutive static lights, each igniting just one of the 20 installed Raptor engines. Both appeared to have succeeded, and SpaceX returned the B7 to its factory in Boca Chica, Texas, reinstalled a full set of 33 engines, and returned the Super Heavy to the launch pad two weeks later.
On August 31, SpaceX attempted to ignite three of Booster 7’s 33 Raptors. One engine failed to ignite, but the others did not, resulting in a generally successful two-engine test. Over the next two weeks, SpaceX performed several non-ignition “spin-prime” tests, two of which appeared to spin all 33 engines without causing an explosion. Finally, SpaceX telegraphed its next major goal with a seven-engine spin-prime test on Sept. 16 and another (albeit with a slightly different set of engines) on September 19.
Shortly after the second seven-engine spin-prime, SpaceX filled Booster 7 with propellant, repeated the same procedures, and ignited the same seven engines for approximately five seconds. No obvious problems arose, and Musk later hinted that the test went well. It set a new record for the most simultaneously ignited Raptors on a single prototype, and likely also broke the record for the most thrust produced by a vehicle tested at Starbase.
If the seven upgraded Raptor V2 engines were running at full throttle, they could have briefly produced over 1,600 tonnes (~3.6 M lbf) of thrust, roughly equivalent to two Falcon 9 boosters. Measuring approximately 69 meters (~225 feet) high and 9 meters (~30 feet) wide, Super Heavy will be the most powerful liquid rocket booster ever tested once it ignites as few as 20 of its 33 engines at full thrust.
In an increasingly rare update, Musk revealed that SpaceX would once again send Booster 7 back to the Starbase factory for mysterious “ruggedness upgrades” after the latest round of testing. Musk doesn’t seem to think these upgrades will take very long, and predicts that Starbase’s “next big test” will be the first full rehearsal of a fully assembled two-stage Starship, followed by Super Heavy’s first 33 engine. static fire test, “in a few weeks”.
More likely than not, each step in this process will require multiple attempts and reveal issues that will then need to be corrected and verified over the course of several months. But with Starship 24 having already completed a full six-engine static firing, there’s a slim chance that SpaceX will end up with a fully stacked Starship that’s more or less ready for its first orbital launch attempt by the end of October.
In the meantime, after Booster 7 returns to the factory, Booster 8 — finally complete after a relatively slow six-month assembly — will launch basic proof tests at SpaceX’s orbital launch site in South Texas. SpaceX wasted no time preparing for this swap and got Booster 8 to the pad just seven hours after Booster 7’s seven-engine static fire. , it’s possible that B8 will complete proof testing and be ready to return to the factory for Raptor installation by the time the B7 upgrades are complete – a very efficient transition if it works that way.
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