Video: Starship stacked atop Super Heavy booster ahead of first launch attempt

Video courtesy of LabPadre.

This time-lapse video shows the “chopstick” mechanism lifting the Starship atop the Super Heavy booster Saturday ahead of the inaugural test flight of the fully-stacked rocket from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in South Texas.

The integrated flight test of the Starship and Super Heavy booster is targeted for no earlier than Monday morning, with a two-and-a-half hour launch window opening at 7 a.m. CDT (8 a.m. EDT; 1200 UTC).

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a commercial launch license to SpaceX for the test flight Friday. SpaceX wrapped up final hands-on inspections and arming of the Starship’s autonomous flight termination system in the last few days, clearing the way for the two articulating chopstick to grasp the vehicle and raise it atop the Super Heavy booster already standing on the launch mount at SpaceX’s privately-owned spaceport.

The fully-stacked vehicle stands 394 feet (120 meters) tall on Launch Pad A at Starbase, located a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border east of Brownsville, Texas.

If all goes according to plan, the stacking operation will be the last one for this vehicle, which SpaceX has designated Booster 7 and Ship 24 in the company’s sequence of prototype Super Heavy and Starship builds at Starbase.

The dry, or unfueled, mass of the Starship upper stage alone is more than 100 metric tons. The Super Heavy booster, positioned below the Starship in launch configuration, is about twice the weight of the upper stage.

On launch day, SpaceX plans to begin loading cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen propellants into the rocket around 1 hour and 39 minutes before the scheduled liftoff time. The fully loaded launch vehicle will weigh some 11 million pounds.

Thirty-three Raptor engines will power the rocket off the pad with 16.7 million pounds of thrust at full throttle, according to SpaceX. That’s more than twice the thrust of NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket, and well over the power generated by NASA’s Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis moon program.

The Soviet Union’s N1 moon rocket, which never reached space on four launch attempts between 1969 and 1972, produced around 10 million pounds of thrust at liftoff with 30 kerosene-fueled engines. Until the Super Heavy leaves the ground, the N1 rocket is the most powerful rocket ever flown.

The Super Heavy booster will fire its 33 engines for nearly three minutes, then the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) first stage will jettison from the Starship upper stage, which will light six Raptor engines. If all goes according to plan, those engines will fire more than six minutes to accelerate the Starship to near orbital velocity on the upcoming test flight.

The Starship will soar to an altitude of around 146 miles (235 kilometers) and fly most of the way around the world, before re-entering the atmosphere and impacting the Pacific Ocean north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The Super Heavy booster will attempt to reignite some of its Raptor engines for a controlled splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico around 20 miles (30 kilometers) offshore from the launch site.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.