WASHINGTON — SpaceX says it has successfully launched the booster rocket for its next Starship launch, though that launch may still be weeks away.
SpaceX fired the Raptor engines into a Super Heavy rocket designated Booster 9 in a static-fire test at its Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas, at approximately 1:35 p.m. EST on Aug. 25. SpaceX said it conducted the “full duration” of the shootout, which appeared to last about five to six seconds.
SpaceX later stated this All 33 engines were successfully ignited, though two closed prematurely. “Congratulations to the SpaceX team on this exciting achievement!”
The company didn’t say if that performance was enough to go ahead with a launch attempt, but it was better than an earlier test of the same booster on Aug. 6. This test ended early, after the engines had been running for less than three seconds. with four of the Raptors shutting down prematurely.
If SpaceX is satisfied with the test result, it could be one of the final technical milestones before it is ready to launch its second Starship/Super Heavy integrated vehicle. The first, on April 20, failed four minutes after liftoff when several Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster stalled and the vehicle lost control and fell.
However, SpaceX will still need to obtain FAA approval for the launch, which includes modifications to the Starship/Super Heavy’s original launch authorization. SpaceX submitted a report about the April 20 failure to the FAA earlier in the month, but the agency has yet to approve it and assess whether SpaceX has made the necessary changes before approving the revised license. The FAA has not set a timeline for this process, but industry observers believe it could take several weeks.
The company has already made several changes to the launch vehicle and platform based on the launch experience in April. The platform now has a water deluge system designed to prevent damage caused by the Raptor plume to the platform, in the process sending sand and debris up to 10 kilometers from the launch site. This deluge system has been used in the last two static firing tests, although its effectiveness will not be fully demonstrated until launch because the engines were not fired at full power in the later tests.
The booster now has an inter-stage ring at the top with ventilation holes. This is designed to accommodate the “hot staging” approach revealed by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in June, in which the engines of a Starship’s upper stage are ignited while still attached to a Super Heavy booster. Doing so, he said, could improve a car’s performance by up to 10 percent.
Musk said in June that the company had made “over a thousand” more changes to the car, giving him growing confidence that the next launch would be a success. “I think the probability that the next flight will succeed and reach orbit is much higher than the probability that the last flight will succeed. It may reach 60%,” he said.
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