First Glimpse of SpaceX’s Fully Stacked Moon/Mars Rocket

First Glimpse of SpaceX’s Fully Stacked Moon/Mars Rocket

SpaceX mated the first and second stages of its massive Starship rocket today for the first time. The 120-meter rocket is the tallest ever built and completely reusable. While not quite ready for launch, that day is getting closer as company founder and CEO Elon Musk pursues his vision of making humanity a multi-planet species.

The rocket has two stages. The first stage, Super Heavy, has not flown yet. The second stage, Starship, has been tested to an altitiude of 10 kilometers five times already, but exploded on landing the first four times. It finally succeeded on the fifth try on May 5.

Today, for the first time, the two stages were mated — or “stacked” — together at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, TX test facility, which it calls Starbase.

SpaceX’s two-stage Starship space transportation system stacked for the first time, August 6, 2021, Boca Chica, TX. The silver first stage is called Super Heavy, and the second stage, covered in black thermal protection tiles, is Starship, a name also used to refer to the two of them together. Credit: SpaceX

The combined system is also referred to as Starship, making the nomenclature rather confusing.

SpaceX will use this transportation system to launch its Human Landing System (HLS) to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, but Musk’s long term plan is to launch many of them per day, sending a million people to live on Mars.

The size of the rocket is impressive — 120 meters or 394 feet tall, with a 9 meter (30 foot) diameter. The BBC has a useful graphic comparing it to other large rockets.

The stacking event today was for fit checks to ensure the pieces fit together. The two stages were destacked about an hour later.

Super Heavy is powered by 29 SpaceX Raptor engines seen in these images tweeted by Musk.

The first launch attempt is still some time away. Not only does the rocket need to be ready, but SpaceX must clear an environmental review by the FAA, which regulates commercial space launches and reentries.

Whenever it happens, the plan is to launch from Starbase. The Super Heavy stage will separate from Starship after 170 seconds and return to land in the Gulf of Mexico about 32 kilometers (20 miles) offshore. Starship will continue on into orbit and conduct a powered landing in the ocean 90 minutes later approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

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