SpaceX just took another big step toward completing its wholly reusable launch system, stacking the Starship spacecraft atop a prototype of the Super Heavy Booster, according to a tweet from tech billionaire and CEO of the company, Elon Musk.
And at roughly 400 ft (122 m), it's really big.
SpaceX's full Starship stack is the tallest rocket ever assembled
The gigantic stacking procedure went down at SpaceX's South-Texas development site, and marks the first time both elements of the massive Starship launch system were conjoined into one colossal rocket. The Super Heavy booster is equipped with the full roster of 29 Raptor rocket engines, adding serious thrust to the Starship's already-impressive six engines.
Crucially, this is the tallest assembled rocket ever developed in the history of space flight. The combined Starship launch system reaches nearly 400 ft tall (rounding up from 390 ft), and paired with the orbital launch stand that props the system up, the entire spectacle is roughly 475 ft (145 m) tall. That's higher than the Great Pyramid of Giza. But the stack won't last long. Next on the SpaceX itinerary is to separate the two halves of the launch system, for more work, analysis, and testing before reassembly and the final preparation for the big event: a real-world orbital launch test.
The orbital launch, however, has yet to receive a precise date. This makes sense, because the disassembly of the big Starship stack, in addition to more testing and a big reassembly process, won't happen overnight. That said, it's not unrealistic that SpaceX could make the orbital launch attempt before the year is out. Think of the big picture here: Just months ago (in May), SpaceX completed its first successful launch and landing of a Starship (the SN15) rocket, after several earlier attempts ending with ground-shaking explosions. The one before that actually made a landing in March, but then exploded minutes after, due to a fire caused by the final, landing-stage rocket firing.
Settling Mars is risky business, but so is living on Earth
Also in May, CEO Elon Musk officially declared that SpaceX's construction of the ocean spaceport 'Deimos' — which is literally a converted oil rig — is progressing with a soft deadline for initial Starship launches in 2022, according to a tweet. This is an offshore launch platform that will serve as an integral part of the private aerospace firm's Starship rocket system, operating as a base for launch and landing Starships that Musk says will ferry the first humans to Mars. And there are two of them, both purchased as defunct oil rigs near the Texan coastline. While envisioning a pair of floating spaceports in the Gulf of Mexico is an exciting prospect, Musk himself emphasized a need for the public to manage their expectations when it comes to the utopic notion of affordable space travel.
"I think we've got a fighting chance," said Musk about the possibility of landing humans on Mars by 2024, during an XPRIZE interview in April. But he stressed that the SpaceX team isn't afraid of making sacrifices to get the job done. A "bunch of people will probably die," lamented the billionaire, reflecting on the clear dangers astronauts will face on the long, arduous journey of traveling to and settling Mars. But with people on Earth facing more challenges than ever before — from inflating currencies to another wave of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, to the fallout of global climate change — those with the means may elect to risk it on the next planet, instead of betting on diminishing conditions on our homeworld.
This his was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.