SpaceX aced a massive Starship milestone ahead of orbital launch

Elon Musk said Starship could soar to orbit as soon as next month.
Chris Young
Starship on the orbital launch pad at Starbase.
Starship on the orbital launch pad at Starbase.

SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX finally completed its first-ever full flight-like wet dress rehearsal of Starship.

"This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant," the private space firm explained on Twitter.

The new milestone brings us one crucial step closer to finally seeing Starship reach orbit for the first time. Starship is SpaceX's next-generation launch system. It will be fully reusable, drastically lowering costs for successive missions. Ultimately, SpaceX wants to use Starship to send humans to Mars.

SpaceX's first full Starship wet dress rehearsal

Those who followed the much-delayed wet dress rehearsal for NASA's Artemis I mission will likely know that the "wet" in wet dress rehearsal refers to the fueling process. A wet dress rehearsal essentially tests all the procedures before cutting things off just short of an actual launch.

For the Starship wet dress rehearsal, which took place at SpaceX's Starbase facility in South Texas on Monday, January 23, the company fueled up a fully stacked Starship for the first time. That means Ship 24, the prototype for Starship's upper stage, was attached to Booster 7, the prototype for Starship's Super Heavy booster stage. Together, they both measure 395 feet (120 meters) in height.

SpaceX loaded liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellant into Starship, which has been fully stacked since the beginning of the month. NASASpaceflight.com live-streamed the wet dress rehearsal on its YouTube channel.

"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 wrote on Twitter.

Elon Musk: Starship "March launch attempt appears highly likely"

The wet dress rehearsal was reportedly a success, meaning SpaceX is on track for the maiden orbital flight of Starship in the near future. Earlier this month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Starship could fly to orbit as soon as next month, though a "March launch attempt appears highly likely."

When it does fly to orbit, Ship 24 will detach from Booster 7 and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7, meanwhile, will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after launch from Starbase.

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However, before it can launch Starship, SpaceX needs to test-fire all of Booster 7's Raptor engines simultaneously. To do that, it will have to de-stack Starship. SpaceX has performed a number of these static fire tests on Ship 24 and Booster 7 in the past few months.

Though it's yet to reach orbit, Starship has been contracted for several high-profile missions. NASA, for example, has selected the rocket as a lunar lander for its Artemis III mission. That means the first humans to land on the moon since 1972 will touch down on the lunar surface using Starship. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa also recently announced the crew of artists and influencers he will take with him on a trip around the moon for the upcoming Starship mission, dearMoon.

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