SpaceX deploys the gigantic rocket intended to propel the Starship spacecraft

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After the success of Starship’s first high-altitude test flight in May, the space company led by Elon Musk prepares to send its spacecraft into orbit. The first prototype of the Super Heavy, the super-heavy launcher specially designed for this maneuver, has just been placed on its launch pad, as evidenced by the images published by Elon Musk. on your Twitter account.

Images and videos shared by the CEO this week show the “Booster 4” booster being moved to SpaceX’s orbital launch pad. Last weekend, engineers installed a staggering 29 Raptor engines at the base of this rocket, nearly 70 meters high and 9 meters in diameter. Spearheaded by Starship, the machine will reach a total height of approximately 120 meters.

So far, Starship has only performed high-altitude flights, not exceeding ten kilometers. This time it will be a matter of taking it into low orbit, several hundred kilometers away, which requires a much greater thrust – estimated at 72 MN according to SpaceX – than that implemented in previous test flights. Raptor engines, optimized for atmospheric flight).

super fast build

The speed at which SpaceX projects progress is often spectacular. The development of the Booster 4 prototype is a new example. The company’s engineers installed the 29 engines at the base of the machine in record time, almost overnight (note that 33 engines are planned for the final configuration). The Super Heavy is now at the launch site.

All 29 Raptor engines were installed on the Super Heavy in record time. © Elon Musk/Twitter

The company must now carry out several technical tests of its launcher (including pressure and fire resistance tests), which will undoubtedly be very thorough given the power of this rocket. At the same time, SpaceX is nearing completion of the construction of the S20, the last prototype of the Starship, which will be placed on the launcher to obtain the complete Starship system. It is worth remembering that the latter will be fully reusable, which will considerably reduce launch costs; the machine is therefore destined to replace all SpaceX spacecraft.

According to a document filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the first orbital flight is expected to last about 90 minutes: the launcher and spacecraft should separate about 170 seconds after liftoff, then the Super Heavy will attempt to land in the Gulf of Mexico. The starship is expected to continue its orbital journey, eventually landing “softly” about 100 kilometers off the northwest coast of Kauai in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Of course, SpaceX has worked hard to accelerate the development of its super-heavy launcher so that it can test the spacecraft’s placement into orbit as quickly as possible. But before that, the project must pass the evaluation exam of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which aims to determine whether the company’s orbital launch facilities meet environmental standards. Of course, the approval of test flights depends on this examination.

An environmental impact that could delay the launch

The FAA completed an environmental assessment of the area in 2014, but that review was specific to SpaceX’s Falcon series of rockets, which are much smaller than the machines the company builds today. An FAA spokesperson warned last month that “the environmental review may recommend dismantling the launch tower.”

The procedure will therefore undoubtedly be delicate, especially as relations between SpaceX and the regulatory body are somewhat strained; in fact, on several occasions, Elon Musk’s company began testing prototypes even before getting the green light from the FAA… . Only at the end of this period will the FAA decide whether or not additional work is needed to bring the site up to environmental standards.

Finally, there’s little chance the FAA will greenlight the orbital flight before this fall, or even later. Will Elon Musk be able to wait that long? According Ars-Technica, it appears that SpaceX still recruited a lot of staff and then asked hundreds of employees from its headquarters and other subsidiaries to join the Boca Chica website to complete the launch site and launch site installation, assembling the Super Heavy . By completing the Starship system as quickly as possible, Elon Musk could very well encourage the FAA to speed up the regulatory process – and that, with support from NASA and the US Department of Defense, who would certainly not want to see “their new toy on the bench.

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