SpaceX prepares for Super Heavy static fire test

WASHINGTON — SpaceX may attempt a long-awaited static fire test of all 33 Raptor engines in its Super Heavy booster as soon as next week, one of the final engineering milestones before an orbital launch attempt, a company executive said Jan. 27.

Bill Gerstenmaier, vice president of build and flight reliability, said on a panel at the AIAA SciTech Forum that the company was preparing for the test at the Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

“If things go well, maybe next week we’ll have a 33-engine static fire,” he said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us to get there, and it’s not easy.”

He did not elaborate on the work remaining before the test, and the panel, devoted to examining the relationship between science fiction and space travel, did not return to the subject. However, the company began preparing for the static fire after a test on January 23 called a wet dress rehearsal where both the Super Heavy booster, called Booster 7, and the Starship upper stage, called Ship 24, were loaded with propellants and put through a training countdown.

SpaceX unstacked the starship from the Super Heavy on Jan. 25, a move the company said was part of preparations for the static fire. “Shooter and capture turret unstacked Ship 24 from Booster 7 on orbital pad today ahead of Booster’s static fire test,” the company tweeted.

According to Cameron County, Texas, where Boca Chica is located, road closures are planned for January 31st and February 1st on the highway leading to Starbase, although the county did not disclose the reason for the closures other than “non-flying”. testing.” However, it is not unusual for such shutdowns to be canceled at short notice, depending on SpaceX’s plans. A shutdown scheduled for January 30 was canceled on January 27.

Both the company and NASA, which oversees Starship test activities given the vehicle’s use in the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration campaign, had identified both the wet dress rehearsal and the 33-engine static fire test as two key remaining milestones before the vehicle is ready, at least technically, for an orbital launch. SpaceX still needs a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can conduct a launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted earlier this month that he believed the company could be ready for an orbital launch as soon as late February, with March “very likely.” However, SpaceX has missed previous schedule estimates it has offered for Starship’s first orbital flight.

The first launches of new vehicles are inherently risky, a concern compounded by the sheer scale of the Starship. Although Gerstenmaier did not directly address the specific risks of a Starship launch on the panel, he noted that all launches have some degree of risk.

“Every launch has a high risk associated with it. I don’t fear the failure, but what are we going to learn from this launch and are we taking this risk for some benefit?” he said. “So I’m trading that benefit of what we’re going to get out of this activity against the cost of doing the activity, and what’s the potential for learning.”

Starships are essential not only to NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon, but also to SpaceX’s deployment of the second-generation Starlink constellation and eventually send humans to Mars. “We’re going to try to take that vision, that vision of the future that we’ve seen in science fiction,” Gerstenmaier said, “and we’re going to try to make it a reality.”

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