SpaceX’s Starship Completes Wet Dress Rehearsal

SpaceX’s Starship Completes Wet Dress Rehearsal

SpaceX successfully completed a Wet Dress Rehearsal of the Starship rocket yesterday. The propellant tanks were filled with 10 million pounds of propellant and a practice countdown conducted, stopping short of firing the engines. It’s a significant milestone for the rocket NASA is relying on to put astronauts back on the Moon in 2025.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted recently that he hopes for the first Starship orbital launch in late February or March, but he is renowned for his optimistic timelines.


The successful Wet Dress Rehearsal definitely is a step forward, but much work remains including test firing the 33 first-stage engines in unison and obtaining a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Starship is a two-stage vehicle. The first stage is called Super Heavy. Rather confusingly, both the second stage alone and the combination of the two are called Starship. It uses methane and Liquid Oxygen — methalox — as propellant.

The second stage has flown five times already — though with three rather than six engines — to an altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), but exploded on landing the first four times. It finally succeeded on May 5, 2021.

Almost two years later, that was the last Starship flight even though in November 2021 Musk forecast he would fly the full Starship a dozen times in 2022. Super Heavy still has never flown. Instead, SpaceX has been conducting a variety of engine tests, but firing 33 at once is still on the to-do list.

The 120-meter (395-feet) tall rocket, 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter, now is being destacked in preparation for that test.

Musk’s long-term plan is to use Starship to send a million people to Mars, but in the nearer term he is eager to get it operating to launch his second-generation Starlink satellites to Earth orbit and to serve as the Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program.

NASA awarded SpaceX a contract in 2021 to use Starship to take two astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the lunar surface in 2025 on the Artemis III mission (NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will ferry them between Earth and lunar orbit). SpaceX is required to first fly an uncrewed test flight, but it needs to demonstrate only safe landing on the Moon, not liftoff.

A second contract for an upgraded version of Starship HLS was signed in November 2022 for Artemis IV.

NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free tweeted congratulations to SpaceX after yesterday’s success.

A competition is currently underway for an additional HLS contractor for lunar missions beyond Artemis IV. NASA wants two contractors in order to ensure redundancy and competition. Blue Origin and Dynetics, who lost out to SpaceX the first time, have said they are bidding again.

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