SpaceX Aims For World’s Biggest Rocket Launch After Loading 10 Million Pounds Of Fuel In Rocket

Ramish Zafar
SpaceX Starship heat shield tiles
A 2019 video shared by SpaceX chief Elon Musk shows the upper stage Starship's heat shield tiles subject to a flame test. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) conducted the first in a series of essential tests as part of its campaign for the Starship rocket's orbital test flight late at night Eastern Time yesterday. Starship is the world's largest rocket and is central to SpaceX's efforts of building out the second phase of its Starlink satellite internet service, taking the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) astronauts to the Moon and conducting regular launches to Mars. The firm is testing the rocket at its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, and after 2022 passed without major fireworks from SpaceX and Starship, it is appearing as if the first quarter of this year might be the big moment onlookers and industry observers have waited for years.

SpaceX Conducts First Wet Dress Rehearsal For Starship As It Kicks Off Launch Campaign

The buzz about the first Starship orbital test flight has been in the press since 2021 when a SpaceX filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laid out the flight path for the Starship orbital test flight. The details revealed that after taking off from the company's facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, the first and second stages of the rocket would separate roughly three minutes after liftoff, and the first stage would land offshore. Starship is a two-stage rocket, with the first-stage Super Heavy booster slated to use 33 engines for liftoff. The first stage is 230 feet tall and aims to generate 17 million pounds of thrust, while the second stage stands at 164 feet. Cumulatively, the system is 394 feet.

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Throughout 2022, SpaceX has been busy refining the first stage of the rocket. 2021 saw the firm upgrade to the Raptor 2 engine, a more simplified and robust design, according to Elon Musk. Then began a series of pressurization tests of both stages, which also saw the fuel pipe on a booster getting bent out of shape. A subsequent rocket fuel pump test also led to a massive fireball at the base of the Super Heavy.

The first stage Starship booster during a static fire test in September 2022. Image: SpaceX

Now, in an unexpected development, SpaceX has shared footage of the first wet dress rehearsal of the fully stacked Starship platform. According to the company, the rocket was loaded with more than ten million pounds of propellant, and the test was the first of several wet dress rehearsals. NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the largest in the world and one which successfully flew to the Moon in November 2022, saw four wet dress rehearsal attempts, with the final taking place in July.

In aerospace, a wet dress rehearsal is used to fully load up a rocket with propellant and oxidizer to ensure that all of its fuelling systems match design requirements. SpaceX added that the rehearsal would enable it to develop a full countdown sequence for the rocket and test the pad for a flight configuration. While most of the attention during a rocket launch is focused on liftoff, pre-launch operations start hours before. These include fueling the vehicle and testing the ground system equipment for leaks and other stressors.

The announcement comes a little over a week after SpaceX stacked the two rocket stages on top of each other and announced that teams are now moving towards a wet dress rehearsal. Footage from onlookers suggests that the test was a success, and if it was then SpaceX just crossed off an essential item from its pre-launch checklist. However, before an orbital test flgiht, the company still has to test the 33 Raptor 2 engines on the first stage for a full stack and full duration static fire test. This test will signal SpaceX's 'intent' to launch, and should it successfully proceed, then the path to the orbital test flight will become clearer.

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