SpaceX activates its SuperHeavy and Starship heavy launch vehicles

Busy weekend for SpaceX: after assembling its giant SuperHeavy rocket and Starship spaceship, Elon Musk’s company launched a Falcon Heavy for the fifth time

From Texas to Florida, SpaceX’s heavy launchers stand tall. Before taking off or after landing. On January 9, 2023, Elon Musk’s company hoisted a copy of its Starship spacecraft (the SN24) atop a copy (the B7) of its giant booster, the SuperHeavy. This is the third time since August 2021 that the two segments of the largest rocket in the world, 120 m high, can be seen assembled. This time, as in October 2022, the elements were mounted using “chopsticks”, a kind of arm of the huge crane nicknamed Mechazilla and built by SpaceX in two copies: one in Boca Chica in Texas, the another at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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Standing on the launch table for a week, the Starship will be launched into orbit from Boca Chica for the first time. Before that, he will have to pass several tests. A “wet dress rehearsal” is planned for the next few days. It consists of filling the tanks and carrying out all the steps preceding take-off. This test stops just before the end of the countdown. Later, SpaceX will have to perform a static ignition of its engines. For the first time, the SuperHeavy’s base-mounted 33 second-generation Raptor engines will roar together.

Orbital test in sight

As for the date of its first orbital flight, SpaceX gave no better precision than “in a few weeks”. Elon Musk, he indicated that it was “probable” in March 2023. Difficult nevertheless to count on this prediction, as the announcements of dates from the boss of SpaceX have proven to be false in the past. In addition, the space company must still obtain the “go” from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry out its test from Boca Chica. The measures taken by SpaceX, at the request of the FAA, to control the environmental impact of its flights are being studied, without either of the two parties having communicated on the required deadlines.

Drone shot of Falcon Heavy’s side boosters landing at LZ-1 and LZ-2

—SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 16, 2023

While waiting for the SuperHeavy to take off, SpaceX’s other heavy launcher distinguished itself on the evening of January 15, 2023. From Cape Canaveral, the 5e firing a Falcon Heavy rocket put a US Space Force satellite into geostationary orbit for the USSF-67 mission. Nearly 8 minutes after takeoff, the two side thrusters jointly landed vertically becoming the 163e and 164e rocket stages recovered by SpaceX. Too heavy, the military satellite did not allow the central stage to retain enough fuel to re-land. It fell back into the Atlantic Ocean as expected.

To carry out this shooting, SpaceX received in August 2020 316 million dollars from the American army. Four other Falcon Heavy departures are scheduled for 2023, including the Psyche space probe to the asteroid of the same name, starting in October.


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