The first-ever orbital test flight of SpaceX's Starship deep-space transportation system might not be too far off. We may not have to wait too much longer.
To transport passengers or goods to Mars, the moon, and other remote locations, SpaceX is creating Starship. The system consists of two components, both of which are intended to be fully and quickly reusable: a massive first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and an upper-stage spacecraft measuring 165 feet (50 meters) tall known as Starship.
Starship prototypes have so far flown a few high-altitude test flights, but the craft has not entered orbit. SpaceX intends to quickly change that; the corporation is getting ready to launch an orbital test mission with the system, which will also be Super Heavy's first spaceflight.
These preparations are advancing. SpaceX's South Texas facility, Starbase, is home to Ship 24, the Starship vehicle that will carry out the orbital mission, the company said today through Twitter. Three images of the large spacecraft in motion were posted in the same post by SpaceX.
A Super Heavy rocket called Booster 7 will carry Ship 24 into space. That rocket is already on the launch pad and might undertake a static fire test in the upcoming days. A static fire test is a prelaunch test in which a rocket's engines are lit while the vehicle is kept attached to the ground.
The next-generation Raptor engine developed by SpaceX powers both Starship and Super Heavy. As SpaceX demonstrated in another recent Twitter post last July 6, that revealed photographs of both vehicles with all of their engines fitted, the spaceship has six Raptors and the booster has a staggering 33.
Comparatively, the workhorse Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX has one Merlin engine in its upper stage and nine Merlin engines in its first stage. Additionally, Merlins are much weaker and smaller than Raptors.
In keeping with SpaceX founder Elon Musk's objective to lower the cost of space travel, Falcon 9 is designed as a reusable system. The first stage of the rocket crashes to the ground or a drone ship close to the launch site. It has been assigned to security missions on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office and is the vehicle of choice for SpaceX's Starlink satellite system, which provides broadband access.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last month that SpaceX could continue its Starship work at Starbase as long as the company takes more than 75 actions to mitigate the effects of that work on the nearby area, which is a biodiversity hotspot. This move clears a significant regulatory hurdle in the way of Starship's first orbital launch.
There are still other similar boxes to be checked, such as the FAA still having to provide SpaceX a launch license before the forthcoming orbital attempt.