SpaceX Is Serious About Landing On The Moon This Year & Launching World’s Largest Rocket

Ramish Zafar
Image: SpaceX

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is moving full speed ahead with the highly anticipated orbital test flight of its Starship rocket. The rocket is the world's largest right now, and it uses 33 engines for liftoff but its booster is yet to be tested. After spending 2022 tweaking Starship's design, SpaceX has started off 2023 by sharing regular updates about the Starship project, which has generated significant public interest and often led to flocks of people heading to the firm's test and development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas to catch a glimpse of the massive launch vehicle.

However, before the orbital test flight, SpaceX has to test all 33 of the Raptor 2 engines at the same time and conduct a full wet dress rehearsal to iron out any potential kinks.

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SpaceX Makes Progress Towards Starship's Full Scale Engine Firing & Wet Dress Rehearsal

The aerospace company shared some updates and images of Starship on Twitter earlier today, which came after its chief Mr. Elon Musk and SpaceX itself had shared some of the first images of a fully stacked Starship. The rocket is made up of two parts. These are its first stage Super Heavy booster and the second stage Starship spacecraft. While fully stacked the launch vehicle stands at a staggering 394 feet tall. The first time SpaceX had stacked the spacecraft on the booster was in 2021, and former is also the first of its kind in history that is capable of full reuse.

According to SpaceX, teams are now working towards conducting the rocket's wet dress rehearsal and a firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the first stage booster. A wet dress rehearsal involves completing testing a rocket's different systems just prior to igniting the engines for liftoff. It includes bringing the ground support systems online and fueling the vehicle among other events.

SpaceX Starship is fully stacked in Boca Chica, Texas.
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A 33 engine firing is equally, if not more important, since it will be the first time that SpaceX will fully test the rocket's complex plumbing system. Starship is one of the few rockets in human history that uses more than two dozen engines connected through the same plumbing system for liftoff. SpaceX's heavy lift vehicle, the Falcon Heavy, uses 27 engines on its first stage, but these are divided into three sets of nine as the rocket is made up of three Falcon 9 stages joined together.

SpaceX has big plans for Starship, as the company looks to have hedged its future on the new rocket. Its satellite internet constellation Starlink will upgrade to second generation satellites soon, and these spacecraft are deigned to take advantage of Starship's larger size. Additionally, the rocket is also a central part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Artemis program. This program aims to land the first humans on the lunar surface in the 21st century, and the space agency has booked three flights from SpaceX so far. The first of these is a  demonstration flight for lunar landing, the second is a crewed mission and the third is a contract extension.

Crucially still, Starship is also the reason Elon Musk set up SpaceX two decades back. The scale and size of the rocket is influenced by the fact that Musk aims to use it to develop what he calls a 'self sustaining human colony on Mars.' However, flights to Mars are constrained by orbital mechanics, since they require the correct placement of planets which happens only once in two years. The next launch window is slated to open in September 2024, and should the upcoming Starship tests be successfully, then it is highly likely that SpaceX will attempt a Mars mission with its rocket just as it starts demonstrating the lunar landings to NASA.

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