SpaceX Starts Testing Its Super Heavy Booster, and It’s “No Good”

NASA spaceflight video of the Super Heavy test on July 11, 2022.

A ground-based test of the Super Heavy rocket, intended to boost the Starship’s upper stage into orbit, ended in flames at SpaceX’s launch site in south Texas on Monday afternoon. The fire continued to burn, on and off, around the pad for over an hour.

This is the first time SpaceX has tested a booster stage – it bears the designation Booster 7 – equipped with a full complement of 33 Raptor rocket engines. Monday’s test was not intended to lead to a static fire test during which the engines are briefly ignited, so it was a surprise to see the fire explode from the rear end of the vehicle at 4:20 p.m. local time. .

The methane-fueled Raptor engine has a complex sequence of events that must unfold properly for it to ignite, and SpaceX was testing the “spin start” part of this ignition sequence when the discrepancy occurred. With the ambient oxygen in the air acting as the oxidizer inside the vehicle, there must be some reason for the methane propellant to ignite.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter Monday evening that the test was “not good.” and explained That the problem occurred during simultaneous testing of all the engines. “Going forward, we will not conduct spin start tests with all 33 engines at once,” he said.

Musk flew into Brownsville on Monday evening after the discrepancy, to first assess the damage and determine a plan to proceed. Tweeting soon after midnight, They said“The base of the vehicle seems fine with the flashlight. I just left about an hour ago. We closed the pad for the night for safety. Will know more in the morning.”

Those inspections will include assessing the integrity of the rocket’s propellant tanks, the health of the Raptor rocket engines, and the condition of ground systems and the steel structure of the vehicle’s massive launch tower.

Internally, SpaceX was targeting a possible orbital launch attempt in August for the Super Heavy rocket and Starship upper stage, which would raise the upper stage to an altitude of about 250 km before returning to Earth. The company is yet to receive a formal launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration for this test.

However, it appears that technical problems with massive rockets represent a major obstacle to reaching launch. SpaceX clearly has a lot of work to do before it is ready for a steady-fire test of the super heavy rocket, which must be completed successfully—potentially several times—before any orbital launch attempt.

If Booster 7 can’t be saved, it won’t be the end of the world. SpaceX has set up an assembly line in South Texas where boosters and Starship vehicles could be built in a matter of months. Many are currently in various stages of work. However, the potential loss of 33 Raptor engines would be more significant.

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