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SpaceX just attempted to ignite all 33 engines in a test fire of its gargantuan Super Heavy rocket booster. The trial marks the company’s first “static fire” test for what is expected to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built.
The Super Heavy booster started its engines for less than 10 seconds while still strapped to the launchpad. The blast sent up a massive plume of smoke and dust as birds scattered around the launch site.
Only 31 engines were lit, however, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed Thursday in a tweet.
“Team turned off 1 engine just before start & 1 stopped itself, so 31 engines fired overall,” he wrote. “But still enough engines to reach orbit!”
The engine test marked the next major step forward in the development of the Starship system — comprised of the Super Heavy booster and a spacecraft — that is designed to ferry people and large amounts of cargo into deep space, including missions to the moon and Mars.
SpaceX conducted the test fire without the Starship spacecraft mounted on top of the booster.
Development of Starship has been the sole focus of SpaceX’s activities at a facility called Starbase, outside the city of Brownsville, Texas, where Thursday’s test occurred.
Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer, had called the test “a big day for SpaceX” during a Wednesday conference in Washington, DC.
Shotwell also noted that the static fire is “the final ground test we can do before we light (the engines) up and go for that first flight test.” That test, which could send the Starship spacecraft to orbit for the first time, could “happen within next month or so,” she said.