SpaceX's Starship may be just one static fire test away from an orbital launch
SpaceX is making steady progress towards the orbital maiden test flight of its massive Mars-bound Starship rocket.
The private space firm conducted a "static fire" test on Tuesday (Nov .29), at its South Texas facility. It ignited a total of 11 of 33 next-gen Raptor engines on its Starship first-stage Super Heavy prototype, Booster 7.
The static fire engine test started at 2:42 pm EST (19:42 GMT) and lasted for 13 seconds. On Twitter, SpaceX shared an image and wrote, "Booster 7 completed a long-duration static fire test of 11 Raptor 2 engines on the orbital launch pad at Starbase."
SpaceX's massive Starship rocket could soon go orbital
The latest engine test actually saw Booster 7 light up fewer Raptor engines than it did during its last static fire on Nov. 14, when it fired up 14 of the massively powerful engines.
Still, a comment from Elon Musk shortly after that previous static fire suggests that SpaceX is very close to performing the first orbital test flight of Starship.
SpaceX's fully reusable Starship rocket has been tested via several "hop" trials so far, during which it has flown to high altitudes and performed impressive belly flop maneuvers. On several occasions, the Starship rocket crashed on landing, but it has also aced a couple of landings.
Booster 7 completed a long-duration static fire test of 11 Raptor 2 engines on the orbital launch pad at Starbase pic.twitter.com/fFnKR00XNo— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 29, 2022
The next step is to test Starship in orbit before eventually performing the first crewed mission, which will take Polaris Program civilian astronauts to orbit. Shortly after the November 14 Booster 7 static fire, Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that the company planned to perform one or two more static fire tests and then make an "orbital launch attempt".
Starship's orbital launch has been delayed many times, so it's best to take these comments with a pinch of salt. Still, static fire engine tests are generally the last big test before an orbital launch, meaning the big day for Starship can't be too far away.
Starship will be the world's most powerful rocket
When Starship does launch into orbit, it will likely utilize Booster 7 and Ship 24, which is a prototype of Starship's 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper stage — the craft that will also be modified for use as a lunar lander for NASA's Artemis III mission. Ship 24 features six Raptor engines, all of which have already been powered up for a separate static fire test on September 8.
When it does launch to orbit, Starship will become the most powerful rocket to ever take to the skies, beating NASA's Space Launch System that took off the Artemis I mission on November 16, and SpaceX's own Falcon Heavy rocket.
Unlike those two rockets, Starship was designed to be fully reusable to lower the cost of consecutive launches drastically. If all goes to plan, this lowered launch cost will also allow SpaceX and Elon Musk to finally achieve their long-stated goal of sending humans to Mars and making humanity a multi-planetary species.