SpaceX sends Super Heavy Starship to launch pad ahead of IFT-4 flight test

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After switching gears to focus on the Falcon 9, the world's most successful, widely flown and now recovered medium lift rocket in history, SpaceX is now picking up pace with activity at its sites in Boca Chica, Texas . The weekend proved crucial for the Starship program, as an FAA filing invited public comment on SpaceX's plan to build a new site in Florida. Until now, Starship launches have remained in Texas because it is easier for SpaceX to test rockets in a relatively isolated area.

Starship, which last flew in March and generated interest across the US, aims to become the first rocket in human history to take humans to Mars. So far, the full stack has launched three times, and footage from local media in Texas suggests SpaceX may be readying a fourth Starship launch.

SpaceX picks up pace with Starship rocket development by preparing for several test flights

The second week of May has proven to be very busy for the Starship program. SpaceX tested the upper stage Starship spacecraft, which is currently intended to perform the fifth Starship flight, earlier this week, and within a matter of days, it has now sent the booster that will perform the fourth Starship test flight, or IFT-4. Can provide power to.

Starship has been the center of attention from both SpaceX and the press for much of this year. At the beginning of the year, SpaceX first shared a presentation given by its chief Elon Musk in Texas. The presentation focused on SpaceX's long-term plans for the Starship program, which includes multiple rocket generations with increasing power and capability.

On the ground, unlike traditional aerospace firms and NASA, SpaceX has multiple test rockets in various stages of the production cycle. The latest Starship static fire test took place earlier this week and tested all six of its Raptor engines for about four seconds.

SpaceX sends Starship Super Heavy booster to launch pad after recent static fire test

The importance of Starship to SpaceX's long-term goals became more apparent this week following SpaceX's latest Starlink launch from California. In this mission, the company launched 20 Starlink satellites, 13 of which were for SpaceX's cellular network coverage. Not surprisingly, as Starlink has grown to add new features such as cellular connectivity and increased capacity and user speeds, the satellites have also grown larger. This has disrupted the Falcon 9 rocket, despite SpaceX pushing for it to launch 20 times per booster.

The recent launch of Falcon 9 lifted a European satellite into a higher orbit than the usual Starlink low Earth orbit. It also marked the first time that SpaceX did not recover a rocket booster in more than a year. Its final mission made the booster the second booster in SpaceX's fleet to fly 20 times, and in the live stream, the firm said it aims to increase the number of flights per booster.

So far, Falcon 9 has launched more than seven hundred Starlink satellites in 2024. Its four latest launches have all been Starlink missions, and the next launch, scheduled for tomorrow, will carry another batch of 23 Starlink spacecraft into orbit.

With Starship, SpaceX will be able to launch the same number of satellites at once as it does with multiple Falcon missions. This bit is important, because not only is Amazon subsidiary Kuiper gearing up to launch its rival LEO constellation, but other companies are also developing fifth-generation, satellite-to-cell networks.

Local media footage in Texas showed it took hours for SpaceX to deliver the massive Starship Super Heavy rocket booster to the launch site. The facility in Texas houses the production and assembly sites where SpaceX builds its rockets, and before test launches, rockets typically undergo static fires and wet dress rehearsals.

Ahead of the launch site today, local officials issued road closure notices informing residents about the activity on highways. The Starship booster rollout took place at night, and footage also showed the hot stage ring installed on top of it.

This ring is a new addition to Starship's design, and SpaceX was forced to add it after the first and second stages failed to separate on the first Starship test flight. Since then, it has performed excellently, and during the second and third Starship flights, the second stage managed to successfully detonate before the first without damaging it.

After the booster, SpaceX must stack the second stage Starship onto the rocket, before a wet dress rehearsal. SpaceX has already fired up the booster stably today, so it's possible it will catch up with the Starship IFT-4 test campaign. The second stage spacecraft has also seen static fires, leaving some tests to go before SpaceX feels comfortable with a fourth Starship test flight.

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