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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is continuing its orbital test flight campaign for the Starship next generation launch vehicle system. Throughout the course of this year, the company has focused on the first stage booster of the rocket, after it regularly conducted suborbital test flights of the Starship upper stage spacecraft last year and managed to successfully land a prototype. The first stage booster is more complex than the upper stage since it has more engines and is responsible for propelling the spacecraft out of the Earth's atmosphere and into space. Footage shared by the company earlier today confirmed that it will first upgrade the booster's lower, or aft, section for durability before it proceeds to the riskier static fire tests that involve all of the rocket's 33 Raptor 2 engines.
SpaceX Ships 230 Feet Tall Rocket Back To Its Factory For Crucial Upgrades
Today's move comes after SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk shared important details for the booster yesterday. Musk's company is currently fine-tuning and testing the Super Heavy Booster 7 prototype, which became the first booster to test seven of its engines at the same time earlier this week. The tests were crucial, as an earlier attempt by SpaceX to test their pumps saw a massive fireball light up at the base of the rocket which at the time raised fears that the rocket's engines might have become unusable for a launch attempt.
However, SpaceX maintained its trend of rapidly inspecting the rocket and making any repairs if necessary. Prior to the engine accident, the same booster had its fuel pipe deform during a pressure test, and SpaceX stunned observers by shipping it to and back from its factory with a new pipe in a matter of weeks.
Now, with the static fire test validating some of Booster 7's fuel and propulsion systems, SpaceX is shipping it back to its factory for durability upgrades.
Booster 7 transported back to the Starship factory for robustness upgrades ahead of flight pic.twitter.com/NfMCsX0PrY
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 22, 2022
These upgrades, according to Musk and footage from journalists regularly covering SpaceX's Texas facilities, will involve shielding the booster's engines. Booster 7 uses 33 engines, and there is a risk of severe damage to all of the engines in case one or more malfunctions.
The speed at which SpaceX is moving, with today's move to the factory coming within days after the seven engine static fire attempt, indicates that the company is moving full speed ahead to conduct the highly anticipated orbital test flight at the earliest.
Musk believes that this flight, which will mark the first attempt from his company to launch a 394 feet tall rocket to orbit, might take place in early November. Should it be successful, then SpaceX will have the honor of operating the world's most powerful rocket - a machine that eventually aims to develop a regular mission cadence to Mars.
Before Starship flies to Mars though, it will make a stop on the Moon. The rocket is part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Artemis program, and its upper stage is the only vehicle chosen by NASA so far to land astronauts on the lunar surface. Lunar Starship's demonstration mission will take place in 2024, and it will see the company work with The Boeing Company's Orion spacecraft to 'scoop up' the astronauts in lunar orbit.
The lunar mission (which will come after the 2024 demonstration mission) will involve SpaceX first launching its propellant depot and then filling it up with tanker Starships. Once the depot is filled, the empty lunar Starship will launch, refuel at the depot and then make its way to lunar orbit. Once there, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will launch the crew in Orion, and they will transfer to Starship near the Moon. After they finish their mission, the astronauts will make their way back to Earth in Orion.