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SpaceX Conducts Static Fire of 31 Raptor Engines in Major Starship Milestone

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 10, 2023
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SpaceX Super Heavy Raptor engines during a hot fire. (Credit: webcast)

SpaceX test fired 31 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy rocket in a major test of the company’s Starlink super-heavy booster program. The test was a key milestone toward an orbit flight test that could take place in March.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted controllers shut down one engine before the hot fire, while another engine shut itself down automatically. So, 31 Raptors fired for what appeared to be a duration of six or seven seconds.

The Starship upper stage was not attached to the Super Heavy booster for the hot fire. The test was conducted at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in south Texas.

The first flight test will enter orbit, but it will not make a complete circle around the Earth. Instead, the Starship upper stage will come down in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii.

SpaceX said the fully reusable launch system will be able to place 150 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO). The expendable version of Starship will be able to launch 250 metric tons into LEO. It will become the largest and most powerful rocket ever to fly.

SpaceX is developing Starship to launch astronauts and cargo to the moon and Mars. NASA has awarded the company $4.1 billion for three landings of Starship on the lunar surface as part of the space agency’s Artemis missions to the moon.

SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said this week that the company wants to conduct 100 launches of Starship before putting people aboard. She also wants SpaceX to ramp up to the point of manufacturing one Starship per day.

SpaceX will use Starship to launch thousands of Starlink broadband satellites. Those spacecraft are now launched aboard much smaller Falcon 9 rockets, which are only partially reusable.

Starship is also being billed as a point-to-point vehicle capable of carrying passengers and cargo on suborbital trips between distant locations on Earth. The U.S. military has provided funding to SpaceX to explore how the vehicle could be used in this manner.