WASHINGTON — SpaceX will attempt a static-fire test of all 33 engines in its Starship booster as soon as Feb. 9, a test that could allow the company to attempt an orbital launch a month later.
Speaking at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference here Feb. 8, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, announced the impending test, the final major technical milestone before the vehicle’s first orbital launch attempt.
“Tomorrow is a big day for SpaceX. We are going to attempt a 33-engine static fire booster test for Starship,” she said. “It’s really the final ground test that we can do before we light ‘em up and go.”
The company had been hinting that the test was approaching for some time. Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX vice president for build and flight reliability, said at a conference Jan. 27 that the test could take place the following week, although he warned “We still have a lot of work in front of us to get there and it’s not easy.”
A successful test, she said, could set the company up for that orbital launch attempt soon. “That first flight test is going to be really exciting. It’s going to happen in the next month or so.”
The static-fire test will be the first time all 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster are fired for the first time. The most engines that have ignited at once in a booster is 14, which resulted in some pad damage.
Shotwell told reporters after her talk that she believed changes the company made will prevent pad damage from the upcoming more powerful test. “I don’t expect the pad to have the same issues that we had during the 14-engine static fire,” she said. “We’ve done some work on the pad.” She didn’t elaborate on the changes.
An orbital flight test will require an FAA launch license that is still pending, which includes implementing at least some of the mitigations identified by the FAA in an environmental review published in June for Starship launches from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, test site.
“We’ve been working all the mitigations since we got it,” she said of the environmental review, including working with state and federal agencies. As for the license, “I think we’ll be ready to fly right at the timeframe that we get the license.”
Starship is essential to SpaceX’s long-term plans, from deploying a second generation of its Starlink constellation to landing NASA astronauts on the moon as part of the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration campaign. It is also designed for a very high production and flight rate, a point Shotwell emphasized in her presentation.
“We have Starship be as much like aircraft operations as we can possibly can get it,” she said. “We want to talk about dozens of launches per day, if not hundreds of launches a day.”
She said she expected Starship to fly at least 100 times before it carries people for the first time, a challenge as the company prepares a lunar lander version of Starship for NASA’s Artemis 3 mission, currently scheduled for as soon as 2025.
In her later conversation with reporters, she called that 100-flight milestone a “great goal” but suggested it was not a requirement. “I would love to do hundreds before. I think that would be a great goal and it’s quite possible that we could do that,” she said.
She noted the company has a goal of 100 Falcon launches this year. “If we can do 100 flights of Falcon this year, I’d love to be able to do 100 flights of Starship next year. I don’t think we will do 100 flights of Starship next year, but maybe 2025 we will do 100 flights.”
First, she said, SpaceX needed to get Starship to orbit as soon as it can. “We will go for a test flight and we will learn from the test flight and we will do more test flights,” she said. “The real goal is to not blow up the launch pad. That is success.”