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SpaceX plans biggest ever test of Mars-bound Starship rocket

Starship 24 stacked on the Super Heavy Booster 7 at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 9 January, 2023 (SpaceX)
Starship 24 stacked on the Super Heavy Booster 7 at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 9 January, 2023 (SpaceX)

SpaceX will perform the biggest test yet of its Mars-bound Starship rocket on Thursday, the company’s president has said.

Elon Musk’s space firm will attempt a static fire of all 33 engines on its Super Heavy rocket booster, marking one of the final milestones before attempting an orbital launch.

Speaking at the annual Commercial Space Transportation conference held by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said a fully stacked Starship would fire its Raptor engines at the company’s Starbase facility in Texas on Thursday.

“Tomorrow is a big day for SpaceX,” Ms Shotwell said.

“Keep in mind, this first one is really a test flight... and the real goal is to not blow up the launch pad, that is success.”

The test follows a successful “wet dress rehearsal” of the rocket system last month, with Mr Musk saying he was aiming for the first orbital flight test at some point in February.

SpaceX is building Starship to be the world’s most powerful rocket, with a projected thrust of 7.25 million kg – nearly double that of Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS).

The US space agency plans to use Starship as part of its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon, while SpaceX has more ambitious plans of sending people to Mars within the next decade.

There have been several high-altitude flight tests of earlier Starship prototypes, though none included the massive booster rocket that is needed to deliver it to orbit.

SpaceX is still awaiting approval from the FAA before it can attempt the first orbital launch.

An FAA spokesperson told The Independent: “The FAA will make a licence determination only after the agency is satisfied SpaceX meets all licensing, safety and other regulatory requirements.”

Speaking at Wednesday’s conference, Ms Shotwell said she was confident that Starship would be ready to fly “right at the timeframe” that SpaceX receives its FAA license.

The license application process takes into account national security and foreign policy concerns of a rocket launch, as well as reviews on policy, payload, safety, airspace integration, financial responsibility and environmental impacts.