SpaceX is a step closer to launching Starship to orbit after engineers performed a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) on January 23rd at the Starbase facility located in South Texas. Boca Chica Beach Village residents were evacuated out of their homes in the sandy region to ensure their safety given that it was the first time they fully-fueled a stacked vehicle. SpaceX fueled the launch vehicle at the launch pad with the fueling lines integrated to the ‘Mechazilla’ launch tower. The prototypes that are undergoing pre-flight preparations are identified as – Starship SN24 and Super Heavy Booster 7. “Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal at Starbase today. This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant,” shared SpaceX. The massive 394-foot-tall Starship is fueled by cryogenic liquid methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX). The propellant is so cold that it forms a thick layer of frost outside of the stainless-steel vehicle. “Today’s test will help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of Starship and the orbital pad for flight-like operations,” said SpaceX. The company shared a stunning video of the WDR operation, linked below.
Today’s test will help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of Starship and the orbital pad for flight-like operations— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 24, 2023
The WDR is one of the most critical milestones a fully-stacked Starship needs to pass to demonstrate it can be safely fully fueled. A couple years ago, a Starship prototype exploded when its tanks experienced too much pressure. It looks like the first fully-stacked WDR went smoothly and SpaceX might be ready to move on to the next phase of pre-flight testing. If all data gathered during the WDR looks good, engineers could proceed to unstack the vehicle in order to ignite Booster 7’s 33 Raptor V2 engines during a static-fire test. SpaceX has never ignited over 14 engines so this will be a major test to assess the rocket’s performance. Super Heavy’s 33 Raptors are capable of generating over 17 million pounds of thrust; it is destined to become the world’s most powerful rocket. If anything goes wrong during testing, SpaceX already has newly built prototypes that could take the place of a damaged vehicle. However, engineers are proceeding cautiously to avoid damaging ‘Stage Zero’ which is the launch tower and surrounding structures at the launch pad.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk aims to perform Starship’s debut orbital flight test sometime in late-February or March. A launch happening during the new target timeline is also highly dependent on whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a spaceflight license within the timeframe. “The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore,” SpaceX wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 2021 filing, “The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai [Hawaii] in a soft ocean landing.” The FCC filing states the Starship will be equipped with Starlink antennas that will relay data to SpaceX’s Mission Control during the orbital flight.
Each test brings SpaceX closer to returning NASA astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program in 2025, and sending the first humans to Mars soon after. The company will also launch a group of dearMoon artists on a circumlunar voyage as soon as Starship is operational. Ultimately, Musk envisions building a fleet of 1,000 Starships within the next 20 years to enable humanity to build the first city on Mars. “Starship is the key to making life multiplanetary and protecting the light of consciousness,” he says.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.