SpaceX tests Super Heavy prototype ahead of Starship launch

Elon Musk says Starship has a "~50 percent probability of reaching orbital velocity" during its upcoming second test flight.
Chris Young
Booster 9 during the static fire.
Booster 9 during the static fire.

SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX fired up its Starship Super Heavy prototype ahead of the massive rocket's second orbital launch attempt.

Elon Musk's space company aims to use the first stage prototype, designated Booster 9, for the second test flight of the fully integrated Starship launch system.

In June, it conducted a successful static fire engine test on the upper stage prototype Ship 25. Now, it is one step closer to launch after successfully carrying out a static fire test on Booster 9 — though not all of its Raptor engines performed as expected.

Starship is "another step closer" to next flight

SpaceX blasted all 33 of Booster 9's next-generation Raptor engines for a few seconds during the static fire engine test, which took place yesterday, August 6, at SpaceX's Starbase launch facility in South Texas.

Before the test, the first-stage booster prototype was anchored to the orbital launch mount at Starbase. Rocket companies use static fires to test their engines and launch vehicles under similar-to-launch conditions without sending their rocket skyward.

The August 6 static fire test went relatively smoothly, though four of the 33 Raptor engines on Booster 9 shut down prematurely during the test. Still, 29 engines worked as expected, and the newly-installed water deluge system below the orbital launch mount appeared to perform well.

"A big congrats to the Starship team for getting through today's test," SpaceX's John Insprucker said during the test webcast, which can be viewed in its entirety below. "That moves us another step closer to our next flight test."

SpaceX flew the fully integrated Starship launch system for the first time on April 20. That flight test ended in a manually triggered flight termination after some Raptor engines stopped working and the rocket started to spin out of control at a high altitude.

The immense power of Starship at liftoff saw the rocket blow a crater into the launchpad, which spread debris far and wide. SpaceX has since installed a water deluge system designed to prevent Starship's Raptor engines from damaging the launch pad.

Preparing for Starship's second orbital launch attempt

The Starship program is part of Elon Musk's plan for helping to send humans to Mars and make humanity an interplanetary species. Once operational, it will be fully reusable, massively driving down the cost of successive launches and making flight to Mars economically feasible.

If all goes according to plan, Starship's second flight test will involve Booster 9 sending Ship 25 to orbit. Ship 25 will partially orbit Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. However, reaching orbit is not guaranteed.

In a Twitter post on August 5, Musk said, "preparing for next Starship flight! This time, I think we have ~50% probability of reaching orbital velocity, however even getting to stage separation would be a win."

SpaceX launched Starship for the first time roughly two months after a static fire on the Super Heavy prototype used for that launch. Flight test number 2 may be delayed, though, due to the ongoing environmental lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that followed the first launch of Starship.

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