SpaceX's Starship Super Heavy is one important step closer to sending humans to Mars

Elon Musk said the "next big test" is likely a full stack wet dress rehearsal of Starship.
Chris Young
Booster 7 during the static fire engine test.

Source: SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX's massive Starship rocket continues to pass key tests on its road to sending the Mars-bound launch system up to orbit for the first time.

The private space firm fired seven Raptor engines on its Starship Super Heavy prototype, called Booster 7, on Monday, September 19. As Space.com points out, it is the highest number of next-generation engines ever tested simultaneously.

The engine test is an important test ahead of Starship's orbital maiden flight, which is expected to take place in the coming months. That test flight will then pave the way for Starship to land humans back on the lunar surface and then send crewed missions to Mars.

The latest Starship static fire engine test

When it does eventually lift off towards orbit, Starship will launch atop a 230-foot (70 m) tall Super Heavy booster equipped with 33 Raptor engines. The 165-foot tall (50 meters) Starship will use six of the engines and will be fully reusable, helping to drastically cut consecutive launch costs to make trips to the red planet financially feasible.

In the lead-up to launch, SpaceX has been carrying out a number of static fire engine tests, during which engines are fired up while the rocket remains on the ground. After the engine test on Monday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that "chamber pressure looked good on all 7 engines."

He also stated in a following tweet that "Booster 7 now returns to high bay for robustness upgrades & booster 8 moves to pad for testing. Next big test is probably full stack wet dress rehearsal, then 33 engine firing in a few weeks."

The full stack refers to Starship mounted on top of the Super Heavy booster rocket. Put together, it is the world's tallest rocket, measuring 395 feet (120 m) in height. That is the configuration that is expected to send astronauts to Mars.

When will we see Starship fly to orbit?

SpaceX has been gradually increasing the number of Raptor engines it fires up during its Starship static fire tests over the last few months.

The company, for example, only performed the first multi-engine static fire test on August 31, having previously only tested one engine at a time on Booster 7 and on the Starship prototype, respectively.

Earlier in the summer, both SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell and Musk had separately indicated that Starship could launch to orbit in May through to August. Given the timeline for SpaceX's full stack static fire test, a September launch doesn't look to be in the cards.

That's not to say we aren't very close to seeing the world's largest rocket finally fly into orbit. Unlike NASA's much-delayed SLS rocket, which continues to sit on the pad ahead of a potential launch this month, we've seen Starship prototypes launch before and carry out crazy flip maneuvers. So it's not so hard to imagine the real thing launching to orbit in the very near future.

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