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After its test prototype for the Starship launch vehicle caught fire last month, SpaceX has finally inspected the booster and shipped it back to the launch site. Starship is SpaceX's 394 feet tall rocket that is central to the firm's plans to not only conduct crewed and uncrewed flights to Mars, but also rapidly build out its Starlink satellite internet constellation.
The company is currently building out prototypes of the rocket in its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas and at this front, its Booster 7 is thought to be the first of its kind to be ready to conduct an orbital test flight. However, this rocket was at the venter of a surprising test accident in July, when a fire erupted at its base due to improper conditions.
SpaceX Will Test Booster 7's 20 Outer Engines Soon Outlines Elon Musk
The booster itself stands 230 feet tall, and it is responsible for lifting the rocket from the Earth's surface and to orbit. For this purpose, it is powered by 33 Raptor 2 engines, and these engines are the reason it took SpaceX roughly three weeks to transport it back and to the launch pad after the July accident.
Since then, footage from diligent journalists providing coverage round the clock from Boca Chica has suggested that SpaceX removed the booster's engines and then installed them after inspection. However, it is unclear how many, or if any, engines were damage due to the fireball that generated shockwaves and whether the company has installed new engines on the rocket instead.
Now, SpaceX's chief Mr. Elon Musk has confirmed via Twitter that his company has finished inspecting the booster and has shipped it back to the launch site. Musk provided live updates as his company rolled the rocket out from its testing and assembly facilities to the launch site, with the process taking roughly five hours.
Additionally, the executive also shared that SpaceX might test the booster again and soon. The nature of this test is uncertain, and it can in all likelihood involve the company testing the Raptor engines's pumps. These pumps were also tested at the time of accident, but while Booster 7 failed to make the cut, SpaceX's upper stage Starship spacecraft that underwent the same test soon after the prior failure saw all the pumps performing to the mark - with live feed from the test site showing clouds of gas flowing from below the rocket.
A crucial event, and exciting, event for Booster 7 will be its static fire test which might see SpaceX fire all of the 33 rocket engines in one go in order to validate Starship's myriad of propulsion and other systems. The testing stands use a water deluge system to divert the heat and sound away from the base and SpaceX also tested this system for its Suborbital Pad B earlier this month. Instead of the launch pad, static fire tests are conducted on the Suborbital Pads.
As his company made progress on returning Booster 7 to the pad, Musk also became more forthcoming with his estimates for a test flight. He believes that a successful orbital test flight can take place over the next twelve months, and during a podcast earlier this month, he also outlined that the first orbital test flight will take place anytime over the next two months.
Just how many rockets SpaceX plans to launch for its orbital test plans is uncertain, and the figure depends primarily on engine production. Every failure will end up costing SpaceX dozens of these engines and at a considerably faster pace at which it can manufacture them.
With SpaceX moving full steam ahead with Starship testing, NASA plans to launch its own Moon rocket at the end of this month and officially kick off the Artemis program which aims to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon - through partnering up with SpaceX and Starship.