SpaceX fires giant Starship rocket engines in key test | Space news

Starship’s engine test may have set a record for the most thrust ever produced by a space rocket.

SpaceX has conducted successful engine testing on the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to eventually send astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

Thursday’s test, called static firing, of 33 Raptor engines on the first stage of SpaceX’s Starship carrier took place at the private space company’s base in Texas and appears to have set a new record for the most thrust ever produced by a single space rocket.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said one engine shut down just before the start of the test, and one stopped on its own.

“So 31 engines fired in total,” Musk said in a tweet. “But still enough engines to reach orbit!”

SpaceX said the test lasted “full duration.”

Huge sheets of orange flame erupted from the base of the rocket and plumes of smoke rose into the air during the test firing, which lasted several seconds.

NASA expects Starship to transport astronauts to the surface of the Moon within a few years, connecting with its Orion capsule in lunar orbit. Later, Musk wants to use the huge Starships to send people to Mars.

The 69-meter (230 ft) Super Heavy booster was anchored to the ground during Thursday’s test firing to prevent it from lifting.

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said Wednesday at a conference in Washington, DC, that the first orbital launch could happen within the next month if the test is successful. That launch, a test mission, would involve taking off from Texas and landing off the coast of Hawaii.

“It’s really the last ground test we can do before we fire them up and go,” Shotwell said.

NASA has chosen the Starship capsule to transport its astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis 3 mission, which is planned for 2025 at the earliest.

When docked with the Starship upper stage spacecraft, the entire vehicle will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty at 120 meters (394 feet), forming the centerpiece of Musk’s ambitions to eventually colonize Mars. But plans call for it to first play a leading role in NASA’s renewed human exploration of the moon.

Spaceflight enthusiasts praised the engine test, describing it as a “big win” for SpaceX.

SpaceX envisions eventually placing the Starship into orbit and refueling it with another Starship so it can continue its journey to Mars or beyond.

Other super heavy rockets in development include Blue Origin’s New Glenn, China’s Long March 9 and Russia’s Yenisei.

Blue Origin, the private space company founded by US tech billionaire Jeff Bezos, won its first interplanetary contract with NASA on Thursday to launch a mission next year to study the magnetic field around Mars, NASA said.

Plans call for Blue Origin’s recently developed New Glenn heavy rocket to lift off with NASA’s dual-spacecraft ESCAPADE mission in late 2024 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the agency said.

New Glenn, with a reusable first stage designed to fly at least 25 missions, is named after pioneering NASA astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Blue Origin has flown previous NASA missions with its smaller, suborbital New Shepard rocket, which can carry research payloads on short, microgravity trips to the edge of space and back.

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