SpaceX completes first wet dress rehearsal of full Starship launch vehicle

Wow, it’s been a minute since I remember writing about a major Starship testing milestone out of SpaceX’s Starbase facility. But here we are to throw some more fuel to the excitement over Starship’s first launch attempt, now having a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) under its belt.

First time both booster and Starship get fully fueled

Over a working day, SpaceX started fueling its Super Heavy Booster 7 and Starship 24 with liquid methane and oxygen. The rocket contained about 4,600 tons of propellant when fully fueled. A first for Starship and SpaceX as they try to get the new rocket ready for its first launch.

This marks a significant milestone for SpaceX. Finally, after years of developing its Mars rocket, the company can say it almost has a flight-ready vehicle. While the past year has been relatively quiet since the conclusion of low-altitude test flights of the Starship ships, development has still been at a rapid pace. SpaceX built a new orbital launch mount with new ground support equipment and its first Super Heavy booster (now we’re up to serial number 7 with number 8 on the way).

Successful WDR moves Starship closer to launch

After the rocket was detanked, SpaceX confirmed the good wet dress rehearsal via Twitter and will move on to the next step in pre-launch testing. While the wet dress was essential to getting Starship ready to fly, it won’t go anywhere until a full static fire of its 33 Raptor engines.

We’ve seen several partial static fire tests, like many partial fueling tests ahead of this final full test. This static fire however is believed to be the final step before attempting to get an FAA launch license. The FAA approved to let SpaceX launch Starship rockets out of South Texas after a long and tedious review process. The mitigated finding of no significant impact (which means they can launch with some changes to its facility and process) came last June and cleared the way for SpaceX to get back into significant testing mode.

Getting to launch isn’t just a big deal for SpaceX but also for NASA, as Starship doubles as the lunar lander for the Artemis Program. SpaceX was selected for the Artemis 3 landing contract in April of 2021, which was worth just shy of $3 billion. Then SpaceX was awarded another contract worth $1.15 billion to land Artemis 4 last November. In parallel, the agency is looking for a second provider to land humans on the Moon for future missions.

While those launches are years away, SpaceX is set on doing its first orbital flight test this year. To do so, it will need to have a successful static fire that doesn’t leave the booster damaged. Otherwise, SpaceX faces the possibility of delaying the launch until 2024.

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