SpaceX’s Starship prototype is finally readying at the launch pad for orbital flight
Let the countdown begin.
SpaceX is preparing for the first-ever orbital test flight of its Mars-bound Starship launch vehicle.
The private space firm just revealed a series of new images on Twitter, showing it has transported the colossal launch vehicle to the launch pad.
"Ship 24 was transported to the pad at Starbase in preparation for the first orbital flight test of Starship," the company wrote in a caption alongside the images.
SpaceX has expressly stated that Starship is being built with the main goal of carrying humans and cargo to Mars, the moon, and other distant parts of our solar system.
SpaceX readies for a new era of spaceflight
Last month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company aims to build 1,000 Starships by 2050 to transport a million humans to the red planet.
While Musk's claims are often best taken with a pinch of salt — such as his claims last year about Tesla and Level 5 autonomy — it's hard to deny that Starship's orbital maiden flight won't be a watershed moment for spaceflight.
Until now, SpaceX has been the leader in reusable spaceflight. Indeed, it is the only company that operates a space program using reusable launch vehicles. However, the private space firm's Falcon 9 rocket only reuses its first stage booster, while the second stage and payload fairing burn up on reentry. With Starship, SpaceX will have the world's first fully reusable rocket on its hands.
This will massively reduce the cost of successive launches, as rocket parts that would typically have to be replaced wholesale can simply be refurbished and readied for re-launch.
The Starship orbital launch countdown begins
The Starship launch system is made up of two key elements: the massive first stage booster called Super heavy, and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft called Starship.
SpaceX recently released images of the Raptor engines attached to the first stage, called Booster 7, and the Starship prototype, called Ship 24, that it will use for its orbital flight. Booster 7 has been fitted with 33 new Raptor 2 engines and it made its way to the launch pad on June 23rd for testing. Though Booster 7 will be part of the Starship launch system, it will also mark a spaceflight debut for SpaceX's Super Heavy booster system.
Ship 24, meanwhile, was fitted with six Raptor 2 engines, and SpaceX just released new images of the Starship prototype making its way to the pad to join Booster 7.
Last month, Musk announced that Starship should be "ready to fly" in July, after the company won Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval following the release of a much-delayed environmental review. SpaceX has conducted a number of high-altitude test flights with Starship prototypes, but it is yet to take the fully stacked rocket to orbit. The company will now likely carry out a static fire test on Booster 7 as it gears up for launch.
Following SpaceX's latest update, showing the key components of Starship reunited at the launchpad, we may be on the verge of a new era for spaceflight.
IE attends New Scientist Live and speaks with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, to learn more about the ambitious STEP program.