SpaceX's 'Mechazilla' lifts 33-engine Super Heavy onto the launch pad for the first time
SpaceX's Starship Super Heavy booster prototype, Booster 7, is back on the launch pad.
For the first time, the massive rocket stage that will eventually lift astronauts to the moon and Mars has all 33 next-gen Raptor engines attached at the launch pad, as per a tweet from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. It's all part of SpaceX's pre-launch preparations as the private space firm gears up toward the orbital maiden flight of Starship.
SpaceX prepares Starship for orbit
On Tuesday, August 23, SpaceX moved Booster 7 onto its orbital launch mount at Starbase, the private space firm's South Texas rocket facility. It was lifted by Starbase's 469-foot-tall (143-meter tall) launch tower, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk refers to as "Mechazilla" on Twitter.
Musk posted a photo of Booster 7 being held by Mechazilla's arms, with the caption "Mechazilla loads Starship on launchpad."
Mechazilla loads Starship on launchpad https://t.co/LfkfjpAcZj— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) ) August 24, 2022
Earlier this month, SpaceX fired up both Starship and Booster 7 for "static fire" engine tests that saw them each fire a single Raptor engine. Booster 7 only had 20 of its 33 total next-gen Raptor engines attached at the time, meaning this was the first time the booster was on the launch pad with its full arsenal of engines.
After the engine tests earlier this month, SpaceX used Mechazilla to lift Booster 7 and move it to a processing base at Starbase. That's where engineers fitted the 13 extra Raptors before Booster 7 made its way back to the launch pad. Now, SpaceX is preparing for more static fire tests, with one of them set to fire up all 33 Raptor engines on Booster 7 at the same time. Once that happens, SpaceX will be a step closer to performing its first-ever orbital flight of Starship — the massive milestone could take place as soon as next month.
A new era for space exploration
Starship is SpaceX's next-generation rocket. It is designed with a view to drastically reducing the cost of consecutive launches, enabling it to send astronauts to Mars. That massive cost reduction comes from the fact that it will be the first fully reusable orbital rocket. Several customers have also penned agreements with SpaceX for Starship flights, including NASA and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. Last year, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon.
The Starship launch system is made up of the Super Heavy booster and Starship, which is the system's 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage. Starship will likely reach orbit after NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently scheduled to launch on Monday, August 29. However, SpaceX's rocket is very much seen as the next major step for spaceflight. It's one that could finally enable humans to set foot on another planet.