SpaceX just lit a very big candle.
The company fired up the engines today (July 11) on Super Heavy, the giant first-stage booster for its next-gen Starship deep-space transportation system.
The firing, which occurred at 5:20 p.m. EDT (2120 GMT; 4:20 local Texas time) at Starbase, SpaceX’s South Texas facility, was unannounced and initially had people speculating on Twitter that it was an accident of some sort. But SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk quickly put that rumor to bed.
“Yes. Booster engine testing,” Musk said via Twitter (opens in new tab) this evening, responding to a follower who had asked if the firing was intentional.
Photos: SpaceX lifts huge Super Heavy rocket onto launch stand
Holy moly. Well, that was unexpected!https://t.co/dUUqw7ojRv pic.twitter.com/7IGztPuE12July 11, 2022
The Super Heavy in question is Booster 7, which SpaceX is prepping for the first-ever Starship orbital test flight. That landmark mission could lift off in the next few months, if all goes according to plan.
The Starship system consists of Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft called Starship. Both of these elements will be fully and rapidly reusable, potentially making Mars colonization and other ambitious exploration feats economically feasible, Musk has said.
Starship is powered by SpaceX’s brawny new Raptor engine — 33 for the booster and six for the upper-stage spacecraft. Booster 7 sports a full complement of Raptors; it’s unclear from footage of today’s test firing, which NASASpaceflight streamed live (opens in new tab), how many of the engines lit up.
SpaceX has launched several upper-stage Starship prototypes on high-altitude test flights, even sticking the landing with one of them in May 2021. But the upcoming mission, which will send a Starship vehicle known as Ship 24 to orbit, will be the first-ever launch for a Super Heavy.
SpaceX is developing Starship to take people and cargo to the moon, Mars and other faraway destinations. NASA selected the system to be the first human lander for Artemis, the agency’s moon exploration program. NASA aims to put astronauts down near the moon’s south pole using Starship in 2025 or 2026.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).