SpaceX isn't racing to get its giant Starship rocket to orbit for the first time.
That landmark orbital test flight will likely involve Booster 7 and Ship 24, prototype vehicles that were stacked together last week atop the orbital launch pad at Starbase, SpaceX's South Texas facility.
SpaceX has already performed a number of tests on Booster 7 and Ship 24, but more await the Starship duo before they can take flight — and the company plans to check the remaining boxes in a decidedly measured fashion.
"We are proceeding very carefully. If there is a RUD on the pad, Starship progress will be set back by ~6 months," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday (opens in new tab) (Oct. 16), using his preferred euphemism for an explosion. (RUD is short for "rapid unscheduled disassembly.")
SpaceX has already performed brief "static fire" tests with both Ship 24 and Booster 7, firing up their Raptor engines while keeping the vehicles anchored to the ground. In fact, the company has ignited all six of Ship 24's Raptors simultaneously.
But Booster 7's static fires have involved just a handful of the vehicle's 33 Raptors at once. And none of its ignitions have occurred while Ship 24 sat atop it.
The coming weeks are likely to see a variety of tests that feature the full Starship stack. Fueling trials will pave the way for increasingly ambitious static fires, which will likely culminate in a full 33-engine firing of Booster 7, as NASASpaceflight.com noted (opens in new tab).
The coming orbital test flight will send Ship 24 around Earth once, wrapping up with a splashdown off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. (Booster 7 will come down shortly after liftoff, making its own waves in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast.)
Though Starship is still in development, a number of customers have already signed up to use the enormous vehicle. Starship will be the first crewed lander for NASA's Artemis program of moon exploration, for example. And the company has lined up two private Starship missions around the moon, the second of which was just announced last week.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).