SpaceX prepares to launch all 33 Starship engines at once

Starship Prototype 24 is stowed on Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Prototype 7 at the company’s facility near Brownsville, Texas on January 9, 2023.


WASHINGTON. SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell said on Wednesday that the company plans to make a major spacecraft milestone this week.

On Thursday, SpaceX will attempt a “static fire” by testing all 33 engines at the base of the Starship booster at the same time. In November, the company conducted test launches of 14 of these engines, aiming to attempt an orbital launch of the Starship prototype.

“Tomorrow is a big day for SpaceX,” Shotwell said at the FAA’s annual conference on commercial space transportation in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynn Shotwell

Jay Westcott / NASA

The Starship is a nearly 400-foot-tall rocket designed to carry cargo and people off-Earth. It’s also critical to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon, as SpaceX won a nearly $3 billion contract with the agency in 2021.

The company wrapped up a “wet dress rehearsal” last month when the Starship 24 prototype was mounted on the Super Heavy Booster 7 prototype in the most recent, crucial test.

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While SpaceX had hoped to have the spacecraft’s first orbital launch as early as summer 2021, delays in the process and regulatory approvals have pushed back that schedule. Speaking to reporters at the conference, Shotwell on Wednesday said there were “no big problems” that caused these delays.

“There are a lot of little things that need to be done, especially because we weren’t focused on the orbiter — we were focused on the manufacturing systems that will build the ship. We know how to get to orbit,” Shotwell said.

While the company has increased the launch rate of its Falcon rocket series to launch every four days, Shotwell noted that existing rockets cannot be produced at a daily rate.

“Why can’t we build rockets every day? That’s what we’re focusing on at Starship, attacking every part of the manufacturing process to be able to build a lot of these machines,” Shotwell said.

SpaceX is already signing contracts for Starship crew flights, including three private flights booked by wealthy people aspiring to go to space and to the moon. But Shotwell echoed an earlier caveat made by CEO Elon Musk, noting that Starship needs to launch “hundreds of flights before we fly people.”

Asked about SpaceX’s plans to IPO its Starlink business, Shotwell said on Wednesday there were “no updates.” CNBC reported last year that CEO Elon Musk told employees the company was unlikely to take Starlink public until 2025 or later.

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