Sidereal Messenger: SpaceX wants to launch the biggest rocket in history in March

Sidereal Messenger: SpaceX wants to launch the biggest rocket in history in March

SpaceX is very close to performing the first orbital test of the Starship vehicle, which NASA hopes to use to take crews to the surface of the Moon starting in 2025. Last Thursday (9), the company successfully conducted a firing test static of the first stage of the rocket.

There were only 15 seconds of burning, while the launcher was kept firmly attached to the platform, at Starbase, an installation of the American space company in Boca Chica, Texas. But it’s hard to underestimate even such a test. Never before in the history of rockets so many engines were activated together: 31 in all (the previous record belonged to the old Soviet N1 rocket, with 30, followed by Falcon Heavy, from SpaceX itself, with 27).

To give you an idea, the thrust generated by these engines was slightly greater than that of the first stage of the Saturn V, a lunar rocket developed in the 1960s, was capable of producing, and a little less than that of the SLS, a new rocket from Nasa successfully tested it last year on the Artemis 1 mission. But that’s the Starship’s “half a bomb” performance, less than half its full capacity.

Still, what you saw was a brief episode of nature’s fury, as flocks of birds mixed with the plume generated by the powerful shot, burning liquid methane and oxygen at cryogenic temperatures. At the end of the test, the platform and rocket were apparently intact. A better result could not be expected.

It is worth mentioning that the first stage of the Starship has 33 engines, which means that two did not light up. According to Elon Musk, one was turned off before the test by decision of the engineers; the other turned off autonomously on firing. Still, the vehicle has redundancy, and Musk pointed out that 31 would have been enough to reach orbit, if it were indeed a launch.

With the advance, the expectation is that a test flight to orbit can be carried out in March. However, it still remains to analyze the test results and decide how to proceed with the two unfired engines. There is also still no authorization from the FAA (American federal aviation agency) for the launch, but Gnynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said he expected it to come around the same time as they will be ready to fly.

If it reaches orbit, Starship will become the most powerful rocket ever built. With the ability to be refueled in orbit, and fully reusable (at least in principle), it could carry more than a hundred tons to the surface of the Moon or Mars, which would be a radical change in space transport capabilities. The American space agency is counting on him for the Artemis 3 and 4 missions, which are expected to carry the first two manned landings of the 21st century.

Shotwell says SpaceX hopes to perform a hundred flights before it can carry humans. But for the first test, the ambition is much more modest: “The real goal is not to explode on the platform. That’s success.”

This column is published on Mondays in Folha Corrida.

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