SpaceX prepares for a massive test this week: Firing all 33 Starship engines at once

Starship prototype 24 stacked on top of Super Heavy booster prototype 7 at the company’s facility near Brownsville, Texas on January 9, 2023.

WASHINGTON – SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Wednesday the company plans to attempt a major Starship milestone this week.

SpaceX on Thursday will attempt a “static fire,” simultaneously testing all 33 engines that sit at the base of Starship’s rocket booster. The company conducted a test firing of 14 of those engines in November, as it pushes to make an orbital launch attempt with a Starship prototype.

“Tomorrow is a big day for SpaceX,” Shotwell said, speaking at the FAA’s annual Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell
Jay Westcott / NASA

Starship is a nearly 400-foot-tall rocket, designed to carry cargo and people beyond Earth. It is also critical to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon, with SpaceX having won a nearly $3 billion contract from the agency in 2021.

Last month the company completed a “wet dress rehearsal,” with Starship prototype 24 stacked on Super Heavy booster prototype 7, in the most recent crucial test.

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While SpaceX had hoped to conduct the first orbital Starship launch as early as summer 2021, delays in progress and regulatory approval have pushed back that timeline. Speaking to reporters at the conference, Shotwell on Wednesday said there have been “no big problems” that caused those delays.

“There’s a lot of little things to get done, especially because we weren’t really focusing on the orbital ship — we were focusing on the production systems that will build the ship. We know how to get to orbit,” Shotwell said.

While the company has ramped up the pace of its Falcon series of rockets to a launch every four days, Shotwell noted that those existing rockets can’t be produced at a daily rate.

“Why can’t we build a rocket every day? That’s what we’re focusing on with Starship, is attacking every part of the production process to be able to build lots of these machines,” Shotwell said.

SpaceX is already signing deals to fly crews on Starship, including three privately booked flights by wealthy individuals aiming to go to space and the moon. But Shotwell reiterated a previous caution that CEO Elon Musk has given, noting that Starship needs to launch on “hundreds of flights before we fly people.”

Asked about SpaceX’s plans to IPO its Starlink business, Shotwell said on Wednesday there is “no update.” Last year, CNBC reported that CEO Elon Musk told employees that the company isn’t likely to take Starlink public until 2025 or later.

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