That Starship booster is anticipated to attempt to complete some of the riskiest and most difficult tests SpaceX has ever carried out at its Starbase rocket research facilities using the same launch mount. Uncertainty surrounds the testing timetable, but Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) may shortly undertake a full static fire test of all 33 of its Raptor 2 engines following an unusually lengthy period of qualification testing. SpaceX is also anticipated to mount Ship 24 (S24) atop Super Heavy B7 for Starship’s first full-stack “wet dress rehearsal” before or after that important test.
In the end, CEO Elon Musk thinks that Starship might attempt its first orbital launch as early as late February or March 2023 if the testing yields the results SpaceX wants to see.
In the nine months after it originally departed SpaceX’s Starbase facility in March 2022, Super Heavy B7 has undergone a constant stream of testing, repairs, improvements, and more testing. The 69-meter-tall, 9-meter-wide (30 ft), steel rocket required weeks of extensive repairs after suffering catastrophic damage at least twice in April and July. However, neither incident rendered the Starship booster permanently inoperable, and since the rocket’s most recent near-miss, Booster 7 testing has been cautious but mainly successful.
Super Heavy B7 has undergone six static fire tests with one to fourteen of its 33 Raptor engines since its return to the OLS in early August. It almost definitely has displaced Falcon Heavy as the most potent rocket SpaceX has ever tested. The seventh time was on January 8th, 2023, when SpaceX rolled the rocket back to Starbase’s orbital launch station (OLS). A full 33-engine static fire is the last significant standalone test between Booster 7 and flight readiness, according to CEO Elon Musk’s comments and a NASA official’s presentation. B7’s 33 Raptor 2 engines might collectively provide up to 7600 tons (16.7 million lbf) of thrust at sea level, making Starship likely the most potent rocket stage in spaceflight history.
The journey of the starship prototype S24 has been somewhat smoother. A few less noticeable repairs were required for the ship, especially soon after its initial tests in May 2022. Ship 24 has conducted three static fire tests since August 2022, all of which appeared to be successful. Most significantly, one of those tests successfully started all six Raptor engines on S24, making it possibly eligible for an orbital launch attempt. Most recently, SpaceX changed and static-fired one of S24’s engines, pulled the Starship from its test stand, and carried out a series of unexplained repairs.
Since Ship 24 was nearly immediately removed from its test stand and Booster 7 is currently waiting to be installed on Starbase’s orbital launch mount, it looks that SpaceX may try a different test before Super Heavy’s full static burn. In its place, SpaceX may first assemble Ship 24 and Booster 7 and carry out a full-stack wet dress rehearsal (WDR) before concentrating on Booster 7’s hazardous static fire.
A routine test conducted before to a rocket launch is known as a “wet dress rehearsal,” and it is often created to replicate every aspect of a launch except for engine ignition and liftoff. The rocket must be fully loaded with propellant and pass all inspections before it can be launched, which is the most essential step. A full propellant load for Starship, the biggest rocket ever built, entails packing both stages with an astounding 5000 tons of liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellant. Additionally, SpaceX must load the rocket quickly enough to maintain the supercool propellant, which improves the rocket’s performance and density.
So, just like Booster 7 and Ship 24, the first full-stack WDR will put Starbase’s launch capabilities to the test. Despite not using Ship 24, SpaceX has carried out numerous Starship WDRs. Additionally, real propellant has never been used to fully fill a Super Heavy booster, much less both stages at once. As SpaceX pushes the edge, problems are expected to be found, necessitating maybe many tries.
SpaceX has even gone as far as to use a special jig to stress-test Starship’s orbital launch platform out of an abundance of caution. SpaceX utilized that jig to load pairs of the OLM’s 20 hold-down clamps with hundreds of tons of ballast in the first week of 2023, making sure they could support the enormous weight of a fully-fueled Starship. The OLM has most likely been subjected to 2000+ tons of force during proof tests for Super Heavy B4 and B7, but a full Starship will weigh more than twice as much as the OLM has up to this point.
The likelihood of the launch mount’s structure collapsing during wet-dress and static fire testing has probably been lowered as a result of this extra prudence, even though SpaceX is still trading speed for caution. Musk claims that SpaceX has a “serious shot” at getting Starship ready for an orbital launch attempt in “late February.” Musk did, however, add that a 33-engine static fire and full-stack WDR will “probably” be finished “in a few weeks” in September 2022. It is evident that SpaceX is more determined than ever to prevent a catastrophic catastrophe during Starship’s initial orbital launch attempt.