SpaceX successfully test-fires its Starship rocket engines

10 Feb 2023

An earlier Starship prototype during a high-altitude flight test. Image: SpaceX/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

31 of the 33 engines fired during the test, which Elon Musk says is ‘still enough’ to reach orbit.

SpaceX has performed an important test of the engines set to launch its Starship rocket system, in preparation for its maiden flight.

The company performed a “static fire” test, in which the 33 Raptor engines were simultaneously ignited. The test was conducted at a SpaceX research facility in Texas.

The test firing lasted for only a few seconds, while the booster vehicle itself remained clamped to prevent any movement.

Out of 33 engines, 31 were fired successfully during the test. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that one of the engines was turned off before the test and another “stopped itself”. He added that 31 is “still enough engines to reach orbit”.

Starship is SpaceX’s fully reusable transport system, which aims to carry both crew and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond. The company is working to make Starship the most powerful launch vehicle ever created.

When all the sections are combined, the spacecraft will be 120m in height, consisting of the reusable Starship section and the Super Heavy Booster.

Starship highs and lows

The spacecraft’s development has seen some setbacks in testing over the years. Starship had its first successful launch and landing in August 2020, but this was followed by the SN8 prototype exploding during a test run in December.

In March 2021, the SN10 prototype completed a successful test flight but exploded after landing. The previous iteration SN9 had also exploded upon landing.

None of these setbacks appeared to disappoint Musk at the time, however. Following the latest test, he tweeted that Starship will get to Mars “one day”.

In 2018, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa purchased all the seats aboard a Starship spacecraft due to fly to the moon this year. In 2021, Maezawa announced that he was searching for eight members of the public to join him on the journey.

Last December, the billionaire revealed the eight artists and creatives who are set to join his space voyage. Among the crew is Cork-born photographer Rhiannon Adam. If the mission goes ahead, Adam will become the first Irish woman to orbit the moon, as well as the first openly queer woman to go to space.

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An earlier Starship prototype during a high-altitude flight test. Image: SpaceX via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic