Teams at SpaceX’s South Texas Launch Site, dubbed “Starbase,” briefly stacked the reusable mars rocket Starship for the first time on August 6th. The fully assembled rocket consists of the 50 meter tall Starship orbiter sitting atop the 70 meter tall Super Heavy booster. Their combined heights make Starship the largest rocket ever assembled, surpassing NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket by around 9 meters. Shortly after the two segments were connected, workers began lifting the orbiter off of the configuration and it was hoisted back into the construction yards.
While there have been plenty of development milestones in recent months, this stacking is especially noteworthy because this is the same configuration needed for an eventual orbital flight of the rocket. Powered by 29 raptor engines on the booster stage, and 6 more on the orbiter, it’s unclear when Starship will actually launch. There are still a few more notable components required for liftoff and reentry, including completing the heat shield tiling on the orbiter stage. Additionally, there will certainly have to be extensive testing on both stages along with an environmental review conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which could take months to complete. Despite these items, it seems as though SpaceX is still aiming for a launch before the end of 2021.
According to a Starship orbital flight plan, which was sent by SpaceX to the FAA, the inaugural launch plans have Starship lifting off from its South Texas launch site. The superheavy stage would then land on a barge 32 kilometers off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, with the orbiter continuing its path into orbit. After this, the orbital Starship would land approximately 100 kilometers off the coast of Kauai in a “soft ocean landing.”