Elon Musk’s Mars rocket Starship moves to launch pad as orbital test flight looms

SpaceX must obtain a licence from US authorities before the rocket can take off

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A prototype of Elon Musk’s Mars rocket, known as Starship, was moved to its launch pad on Wednesday in preparation for an orbital test flight.

Images published by SpaceX showed Ship 24 being taken to a pad in Starbase, the launch site the company uses in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship is set to be the world’s most powerful rocket and SpaceX plans to use it to send humans and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

“Ship 24 was transported to the pad at Starbase in preparation for the first orbital flight test of Starship,” SpaceX said on Twitter.

Starship has been in development for many years and has completed high-altitude tests, but it has not yet completed an orbital flight.

No launch licence yet

Before the test flight can go ahead, SpaceX must obtain a launch licence from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US.

The company also has to meet 75 conditions set by the organisation to continue its work at Starbase.

These include addressing environmental concerns such as the effect of its work on wildlife and the number of road closures it requires.

Elon Musk confident Starship will be ready for flight soon

Mr Musk previously said Starship would be ready for a test flight in July.

“I was in the high bay and mega bay late last night reviewing progress,” Mr Musk said on Twitter in June.

“We will have a second Starship stack ready to fly in August and then monthly thereafter.”

In May last year, a Starship prototype completed a high-altitude test, including the rocket's first successful take-off and touchdown.

The system is fully reusable and includes a first-stage booster called Super Heavy and an upper stage spacecraft called Starship.

Before the orbital test flight, there could be a static fire test, a process in which the engines are ignited to test whether the rocket is ready to launch without it taking off.

Powerful Raptor engines have been installed for the test flight. Six have been placed in the spacecraft and 33 in the booster.

The rocket will produce 3,991 tonnes of thrust, 15 per cent more than Nasa’s Apollo Moon rocket Saturn V.

Mr Musk has said he wants to send a million people to Mars by 2050 using Starship rockets. He hopes to send the first uncrewed cargo flight to the planet within this decade.

Starship would enter the Martian atmosphere at 7.5 kilometres a second and the rocket's heat shield is to be designed to withstand several entries.

Mr Musk has already sold tickets to travel on the rocket to two billionaires.

American Jared Isaacman paid for a seat on the first crewed flight and Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has bought tickets for the first crewed flight to the Moon.

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Updated: July 07, 2022, 9:04 AM