SpaceX has been conducting Starship test launches over the past year, but that’s only part of the launch system that will power all of Elon Musk’s ambitious initiatives. For the first time, SpaceX has mated the Starship with its Super Heavy booster stage. The towering vehicle reaches nearly 400 feet in height, making it the tallest rocket ever assembled. However, it’s not quite ready to launch in this configuration.
Starship is the vessel that could eventually carry people to and from Mars, but getting off of Earth is a challenge. Earth has more gravity than celestial bodies like the moon and Mars. Starship can lift off from those places on its own, but on Earth, it needs the added power of the Super Heavy stage. Starship has six of the company’s cutting edge Raptor engines, but the Super Heavy has a whopping 29 of those engines, and future versions could up that to 33.
Fully assembled, the Starship stack measures 390 feet tall (118.8 meters). That’s taller than Big Ben in London, which measures 316 feet tall, with the added feature that the clock tower can’t launch itself into space and travel to other planets.
NASA’s retired Saturn V was close at 363 feet, and the upcoming Space Launch System will be about the same. Super Heavy needs to be enormous to accommodate all the fuel it takes to get the hefty Starship out of Earth’s gravity. The stack assembled at Musk and Co’s Boca Chica test facility consists of the Starship SN20, the latest prototype of the spacefaring payload, along with Super Heavy BN4.
Starship Fully Stacked pic.twitter.com/Fs88RNsmfH
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 6, 2021
Musk has previously said he expects SN20 to be the first Starship that will reach orbit. Previous tests have all taken place inside Earth’s atmosphere, but the Starship has big things ahead. Not only will Musk be flying a Japanese billionaire around the moon, NASA has opted to use the Starship as a descent vehicle for the upcoming Artemis moon landings. And then there’s that whole colonizing Mars thing, which Musk has insisted is feasible within the next decade.
While these components may eventually get to rocket into space, they won’t do so right now. SpaceX is expected to disassemble the vehicle so both components can complete static fire tests. They will be reintegrated for a future launch when the time comes. Following that launch, BN4 will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico. Starship will come down in the Pacific Ocean 90 minutes later after completing an orbit of Earth. Once the testing phase is over, SpaceX expects Starship to be fully reusable like the Falcon 9 and Dragon system.
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