Excitement builds leading up to SpaceX’s Starship debut orbital flight test! Space enthusiasts from around the globe have their eyes set on SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica village, where the company is developing its next-generation launch system. The city of Brownsville has been mostly under the radar until SpaceX arrived. An influx of tourists have been traveling from across the country to visit the shiny Starships the company has been testing.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been providing updates via social media about the Starship vehicle that will soon launch to orbit –and hopefully return to Earth intact. On Thursday afternoon, Musk shared an incredible photograph of the 230-foot-tall Super Heavy rocket (Booster 4) that will propel Starship (SN20) to orbit this Summer, pictured below. Once they attach the Starship spacecraft atop Booster 4, the launch vehicle will be 394-feet-tall – taller than the U.S. Statue of Liberty.
Their current plan is to launch Super Heavy from South Texas and land it in the Gulf of Mexico soon after dropping off Starship SN20 to orbit. SN20 will fly in space above the Florida Straits then reenter Earth’s atmosphere to splashdown off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. The flight will provide engineers with valuable data to develop the spacecraft and improve concept of operations. A specific launch date is still not publicly established because SpaceX is still pending necessary regulatory approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration to proceed with this launch.
SpaceX currently runs 24/7 shifts to prepare the launch vehicle for this ambitious orbital test. The company is making progress at an unprecedented speed for the past couple of weeks. They installed 29 Raptor engines to Booster 4 in less than 24-hours and transported the booster to the launch pad this week. “Moving rocket to orbital launch pad,” Musk announced on August 4.
Moving rocket to orbital launch pad pic.twitter.com/zZLiXIPD6M— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 4, 2021
Local Boca Chica photographers have been documenting SpaceX’s daily progress at Starbase. In some of their images, you can see the enormous scale of Booster 4, as well as the dimensions of the Raptor engines in comparison to a human. Sea-level Raptor engines have a diameter of around 4 feet and a height of 9-feet. Unlike the company's other rockets, which are powered by Kerosene and liquid oxygen, Raptors are a full-flow, staged-combustion engine powered by a combination of cryogenic methane (CH4) and cryogenic liquid oxygen (LOX) which is a true innovation in the aerospace industry. “Other rocket engines were designed for no, or almost no reuse,” Musk said last year, “Raptor is designed for heavy and immediate reuse, like an aircraft jet engine, with inspections required only after many flights, assuming instrumentation shows it good.”
SpaceX’s SuperHeavy Booster being hoisted onto the Orbital Launch Pad🚀 pic.twitter.com/8VRLNItok4— Austin Barnard🚀 (@austinbarnard45) August 5, 2021
As they work to mount Super Heavy to the launch tower stand, other teams are finalizing assembly of Starship SN20. The vehicle looks very cool with hundreds of hexagonal heat tiles that will protect it from the extremely high temperatures it will experience as it reenters Earth's rough atmosphere (pictured below). On August 3 at midnight Musk shared they finished installing 6 Raptor engines to the first orbital Starship. It will be the first test vehicle to be equipped with 3 vacuum-optimized Raptors (R-Vac) with a much larger bell nozzle for propulsion in space. The Raptor engine is special, designed to give astronauts the option to return to Earth from Mars. Through the Sabatier process and electrolysis, future Mars settlers could synthesize methalox propellant for Starship by using resources already on the Martian surface, which include water-ice and carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere. This design choice shows that SpaceX is very serious about making life multiplanetary. Musk hopes the first sustainable Mars colony could be established before the year 2050. The company plans to manufacture a fleet of 1,000 Starships over the course of 20 years to make it possible.
All 6 engines mounted to first orbital Starship pic.twitter.com/l5QnQRSg3D— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 4, 2021
Featured Image Source: SpaceX Founder Elon Musk / Starbase sign Tesmanian.com
About the Author
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.