SpaceX completed a standard test of the Starship’s catalyst and rolled out a new Super Heavy prototype to the launch pad within hours.
Nearly six weeks after SpaceX began its Super Heavy Booster 7 static fire test campaign, the company has broken new ground by igniting seven Raptor engines simultaneously. A few hours later, confirming SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plans in real time, the company moved a second Super Heavy prototype (Booster 8) from the factory to the launch pad, where it joined the Booster 7.
According to Musk, these missiles will soon change places, ensuring no time is wasted as SpaceX continues to gradually work toward the Starship’s first orbital launch attempts.
The Booster 7 kicked off the most significant phase of the flight qualification process on August 9 and 11 with two consecutive static fires, each igniting only one of the 20 Raptor’s installed engines. Both seemed successful, and SpaceX returned the B7 to its Boca Chica, Texas, plant, reinstalled a complete set of 33 engines, and sent the Super Heavy to the launch pad two weeks later.
On August 31, SpaceX attempted to ignite three of its Booster 7’s 33 Raptors. One of the engines failed to ignite while the others did not, resulting in most of them successfully testing two engines. Over the next two weeks, SpaceX conducted several ignition-free “master spin” tests, two of which appeared to spin all 33 engines without ignition. cause an explosion. Finally, SpaceX revealed its next major target with a seven-engine main spin test on September 16 and another (albeit with… slightly different group of engines) on September 19.
Shortly after the second seven-engine cycle, SpaceX refueled the Booster 7, went back through the same procedures, and ignited the same seven engines for about five seconds. There were no obvious problems and Musk later indicated that the test went well. It set a new record for the most Raptors caught simultaneously on a single prototype and likely also broke the record for most thrust produced by a vehicle tested at Starbase.
If all seven of the upgraded Raptor V2 engines were at full throttle, they could have briefly produced more than 1,600 tons (~3.6M lbf) of thrust – roughly the equivalent of two Falcon 9 boosters. It has a height of about 69 meters ( ~225 ft) and 9 m (~30 ft) wide, the Super Heavy will be the most powerful liquid rocket booster ever tested once no less than 20 of the 33 engines have been ignited at full thrust.
In an increasingly rare update, Musk revealed that SpaceX will once again bring its Booster 7 back to the Starbase factory for mysterious “durability upgrades” after the latest round of testing. Musk doesn’t seem to think these upgrades will take long, and expects Starbase’s “next big test” to be the Starship’s first fully assembled two-stage wetsuit experience, followed by the Super Heavy’s first 33 engines. Constant fire test, “in a few weeks.”
Most likely, each step of this process will take multiple attempts and reveal issues that will then need to be corrected and checked over the course of several months. But with Starship 24 already finishing a full six-engine static fire, there’s a small chance SpaceX will find itself with a fully stacked spacecraft more or less ready for its first orbital launch attempt by the end of October.
Meanwhile, after Booster 7 returns to the factory, Booster 8 — finally completed after a relatively slow six-month assembly — will begin basic proof testing at SpaceX’s South Texas orbital launch site. SpaceX wasted no time preparing for this exchange and moved the Booster 8 onto the board just seven hours after the seven-engine stable Booster 7 launched. If things go more smoothly than they did with the B7, the B8 will likely have completed proof testing and be ready to go back to the factory to install the Raptor by the time the B7 upgrades are finished – a very efficient transition if it works that way.