Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has stacked the second stage spacecraft of its Starship next-generation launch vehicle system on top of the Super Heavy booster for the first time. The stacking comes after SpaceX finished installing the engines on both vehicles to finalize them for their first orbital test flight. This highly-anticipated test flight will be the first time Starship, a rocket capable of generating a staggering 16 million pounds of thrust, will take to the skies. SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk, who has taken upon himself to provide regular coverage of his rocket’s construction on social media, shared images of the event.
Starship Stacking Clears Another Milestone For SpaceX’s Aim Of Interplanetary Flights
In just a handful of days after SpaceX engineers shockingly finished installing 29 rocket engines on the Super Heavy booster, the company has now stacked both rockets on top of each other to place them in their final launch configuration. The rapid pace of progress surprised many onlookers and industry watchers as SpaceX leveled up to continue its streak of disrupting the astronautic launch sector in terms of time taken to complete operations, as it simplified its Super Heavy booster design to install the 29 engines in roughly a week.
Musk shared the update earlier today, at roughly 11:00 EDT, alongside the fully stacked Starship pictures. In addition to being the first time SpaceX has stacked both variants of Starship on top of each other, it is also the first time that the company has installed a large number of its precious Raptor full-flow staged-combustion, Methane-fuelled rocket engines on a prototype vehicle.
It comes after Musk expressed hesitancy late last year to use a large number of engines on a test vehicle, worrying that a potential setback could reverse months of manufacturing progress at his company. However, with SpaceX having rolled out the 100th Raptor engine at the end of July, it appears as if some of his concerns have been assuaged.
The fully stacked Starship Super Heavy stands at 119 meters tall, falling a meter short of its design height due to modifications to the booster. Musk also shared details about what SpaceX plans to do with the world’s tallest rocket with stacking complete.
His company will now turn its sights on completing the heat shield for the upper stage spacecraft, which will be responsible for protecting it from the harsh effects of atmospheric entry after completing the anticipated orbital test flight. According to Musk, the remaining second-stage heat shield ties require special machining, and 98% of the tiles have already been installed on the spacecraft.
After the tile installation, SpaceX will work on the thermal protection for the 29 first-stage engines and install ground propellant tanks. These tanks will be responsible for fuelling the orbital rocket for its tests and eventual flight.
With stacking complete, Starship is now the world’s largest rocket, but it will require several testing rounds and flights before it can be characterized as fully operational. The rocket belongs to the class of launch vehicles dubbed as super-heavy-lift. The last American rocket to fit the designation was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Saturn V rocket responsible for landing the first and only humans on the lunar surface. The Saturn V was a three-stage rocket that stood at 111 meters, and it is the only super-heavy rocket alongside the Russian Energia to launch and deliver a payload to its intended destination.