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SpaceX nears final assembly of its first massive testing rocket booster for Starship

Darrell Etherington
·2-min read

SpaceX has completed what's known as the "stacking" of its first Super Heavy prototype, the extremely large next-generation first-stage rocket booster that it will eventually use to propel its Starship spacecraft to orbit and beyond. The Super Heavy Booster is about 220 feet tall — which is roughly the wingspan of a Boeing 747, or a bit taller than the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.

That's without Starship on top, which will add around another 160 feet. Super Heavy will undergo its own testing prior to flying with Starship, however, and a lot of that will be focused on assuring its fuel tanks can handle the pressurization and extreme temperatures required for keeping all that ignitable material stable prior to when the engines actually fire.

Super Heavy uses the same engines as Starship — Raptor engines, to be specific, which SpaceX created new for this generation of launch vehicle. The final version will have a total of 28 Raptor engines, but this first prototype will likely be outfitted with far fewer, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that it'll also remain grounded, as it's intended to be used only for testing things like build and transportation mechanics.

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He did say the next prototype will fly, and while he isn't always accurate about timelines, the Starship upper stage (i.e., the one that looks like a big grain silo with fins) is progressing quickly in its development, including with a recent test flight that ended with a near-perfect landing — minus the subsequent explosion that took out the prototype rocket entirely a few minutes after it had touched down successfully.

Musk clearly wants to move fast with Starship and Super Heavy, in part because of ambitious goals it has of serving as a provider to NASA for future human lunar landing missions as part of the Artemis program, and also because it's still planning to fly the first commercial tourist flight of a Starship in just two short years in 2023.