The other half of SpaceX’s Starship deep-space transportation system is starting to come out into the light.
Over the past three months, three full-size prototypes of the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Starship spacecraft have launched on high-altitude test flights, each time with impressive but ultimately explosive results. However, the company hadn’t showcased any versions of Super Heavy, the 230-foot-tall (70 m) booster that will launch Starship off Earth — until now.
“First Super Heavy booster,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on Thursday afternoon (March 18), where he posted a photo of the big rocket at the company’s South Texas site, near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica.
Booster 1 “is a production pathfinder, figuring out how to build & transport 70-meter-tall stage. Booster 2 will fly,” Musk said in another Thursday tweet.
SpaceX is developing Starship and Super Heavy to get people and payloads to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. Both vehicles will be fully reusable, Musk has said. Super Heavy will come back to Earth for a vertical landing shortly after liftoff, as the first stages of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets already do, and Starship will be capable of making many trips to and from Mars or the moon. (Starship will be powerful enough to launch itself off both of those bodies, but it needs Super Heavy to get off the much more massive Earth.)
Starship and Super Heavy will start flying soon, if all goes according to Musk’s plan. The billionaire entrepreneur recently said that SpaceX aims to launch Starship to orbit sometime this year, and that he envisions the Starship-Super Heavy duo being fully operational by 2023.
SpaceX already has a Starship mission on the books with a target launch date of 2023 — the “dearMoon” flight around Earth’s nearest cosmic neighbor, which was bought by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life