SpaceX breaks a reusability record as it readies to launch its fully reusable Starship to orbit

A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage reached orbit for the 14th time, while Starship will soon go orbital for the first time ever.
Chris Young
SpaceX's Ship 24 Starship prototype.
SpaceX's Ship 24 Starship prototype.

Source: SpaceX/Twitter 

SpaceX is readying Starship for orbit.

The private space firm fired up the engines of its Starship prototype, Ship 24, as part of a static fire test that brings it closer to launching the fully reusable spacecraft to orbit for the first time.

SpaceX lit all six Raptor engines on Ship 24 for a few brief moments starting on Thursday, September 8, at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) at its Starbase South Texas facility.

The engine test, which only lasted a few seconds, also set alight some of the surrounding grassland, causing the fire department to swoop down on the scene as a precautionary measure. The test itself and the fire were captured in a live stream video feed shared by NASASpaceflight.

SpaceX breaks Falcon 9 reusability record ahead of Starship launch

SpaceX is developing Starship to drastically reduce the cost of spaceflight by utilizing a fully reusable launch system. The company has already pioneered reusable rocket technology with its Falcon 9 rocket, though that launch vehicle's upper stage is not reusable — Falcon 9's dramatic droneship landings are carried out by the launch system's first stage boosters.

In fact, the company just carried out a record 14th launch of a Falcon 9 first stage, breaking its own record for reusability. That record-breaking launch took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 9:20 p.m. EDT Saturday (0120 GMT Sunday), and it launched 32 Starlink internet satellites and the BlueWalker 3 satellite into orbit.

Unlike Falcon 9, Starship is composed of two fully reusable elements: the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Starship upper stage and Super Heavy. NASA has contracted SpaceX to develop a Starship upper stage as the lunar lander for its Artemis III moon landing mission, and SpaceX also aims to send humans to Mars using Starship by the 2030s.

Starship static fire test brings it closer to orbit

SpaceX is preparing for its much-hyped first orbital Starship flight, which will involve Ship 24 and a Super Heavy named Booster 7. The company has performed static fire tests on both elements and it has Federal Aviation Authority clearance — pending the completion of a number of conditions SpaceX must meet before launch — for launch following the completion of a much-delayed environmental review.

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On August 9, SpaceX fired up two of Ship 24's six Raptor engines, while on August 31, it ignited three of Booster 7's 33 Raptor engines.

If preparations continue to go as planned, SpaceX may even launch Starship to orbit before NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) achieves the same feat for the Artemis I lunar mission. Following a hydrogen leak issue earlier this month, the launch of SLS was pushed back even further into October due to a scheduling conflict with NASA and SpaceX's Crew-5 Falcon 9 launch to the International Space Station.

Both SpaceX and NASA are working together to take astronauts back to the moon for the Artemis program, which will take the first woman and first person of color to the moon and will be the first crewed moon landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

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