SpaceX nears launch of 5,000-ton rocket

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As part of its rapid development in Boca Chica, Texas, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is getting closer to commissioning the first stage of its Starship launch vehicle platform. Starship is SpaceX’s super-heavy rocket that’s designed not only to replace the company’s existing Falcon 9 line, but also to conduct interplanetary missions.

It will use 33 rocket engines to power the first-stage booster, and on that front, SpaceX chief Elon Musk shared a new image earlier today that showed all of those engines installed on the rocket. This marks a crucial step toward testing the booster that is already the center of attention for a highly anticipated orbital test flight that will pave the way for SpaceX’s future.

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Starship, the rocket, consists of two parts. At the bottom is the Super Heavy Booster which will use 33 motors to lift it off the ground and at the top is the Starship spacecraft which will separate once the complete rocket leaves Earth’s gravity.

Right now, the heat is circling around Starship Booster 7, which is SpaceX’s prototype currently being tested for its ability to withstand operational pressure. Now, in a new image that was shared earlier today, Elon Musk revealed that SpaceX appears to have completed installing all 33 rocket engines.

Installing the engines is the next step in preparing the booster for a crucial test that will test its fuel and propulsion systems. Unlike other rockets, which use two to four engines, Starship systems are much more complex due to the number of engines present. However, SpaceX also has a lot of experience in this area, as it is the first and only entity in the world to have regularly flown a single rocket booster with nine engines – a design aspect also praised by NASA.

An image shared by Elon Musk earlier today shows the 33 Raptor rocket engines installed on Starship. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

Installing the engines leaves behind a few tests before SpaceX can launch its rocket for the first time. These include transporting the propellant to the launch site and conducting a dress rehearsal before the crucial static firing test. A wet dress rehearsal involves fueling the rocket and ensuring that all ground systems are ready before a launch attempt is made.

Additionally, Musk also shared that all 33 engines are capable of generating 230 metric tons of thrust. This would imply that SpaceX has tested them all and encountered no issues. Whispers in the rumor mill have suggested that the company is facing issues with the Raptor 2 engine’s combustion chamber. This is the part of the rocket in which its fuel (methane) and oxidizer (liquid oxygen) are mixed and ignited after being fed through a complex array of pipes and pressure pumps.

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Whispers believe the chamber melts at higher pressures, and we saw what could have been the result of such an event in a test conducted earlier this year. Still, as they are unconfirmed, the upcoming static fire test will provide critical information.

Starship is one of the largest rockets in the world and when fully stacked it will weigh 5,000 tons or five kilotons. SpaceX builds the rocket by rolling steel sheets into cylinders, stacking the cylinders on top of each other, then welding them together. The company is also waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to complete an environmental review of its facilities, after which it can apply for a launch license.

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