The SpaceX Starship booster successfully launched 14 of the 33 Raptor engines, potentially becoming the most powerful active rocket in the world.
Throughout the history of spaceflight, only three or four rockets have produced as much or more thrust as Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) could theoretically produce on November 14. But the Soviet Energia rockets, the N1, and the American Saturn V and space shuttles were all retired decades or several decades ago. Only SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the fifth in the class capable of producing up to 2,325 tons (5.13 million pounds) of thrust at sea level, is still operating and getting close.
Powered by 33 Raptor 2-developed engines that SpaceX says can produce up to 230 tons (about 510,000 pounds) each, the Super Heavy could have produced up to 3,220 tons (7.1 million pounds) of thrust when it ignited the 14 from its engines earlier today. This likely means that Starship is now the fourth most powerful rocket ever tested, flying above NASA’s space shuttle but below Soviet Energia. And even if all 14 engines were never throttled above 73%, SpaceX’s Starship booster could potentially produce more thrust than any other active rocket in the world, beating out the Falcon Heavy. But if NASA has its way, Starship could hold that title for as little as 36 hours.
As early as 1:04 a.m. EDT (06:04 UTC) on November 16, just over 35 hours after the record-breaking SpaceX spacecraft launch, NASA will attempt to launch its massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the first time. Third since late August. At the express request of Congress, which wanted to preserve shuttle functionality after the program’s end in 2011, the SLS is essentially hopping around on space shuttle parts and replacing the reusable orbiter with a fully expendable rocket. The solid rocket boosters (SRBs) have been extended and raised, and the orange outer tank has been extended and converted into a liquid rocket booster installed with the four RS-25 engines on the three shuttles.
If all goes according to plan, these changes mean the SLS rocket will produce up to 3,990 tons (8.8 million pounds) of thrust when it first lifts off, surpassing the Super Heavy B7 but also making it the second most powerful launch vehicle in history after the Soviet N1. However, the N1 never succeeded, so the SLS could become the most powerful rocket ever to reach orbit if its first launch is successful.
But just as the SLS appears poised to almost immediately dethrone Starship as the world’s most powerful active rocket, Starship is poised to overtake the SLS to become the most powerful rocket ever launched – successfully or not – when it attempts its first orbital launch either next. month or early next year. With all 33 raptors at full throttle, Starship can produce approximately 7,600 tons (16.7 million pounds) of thrust on takeoff, beating the previous record holder—the Soviet N1 missile—by nearly 60%.
Even if the first launch attempt is unsuccessful, SpaceX appears to be preparing for several more rapid launches that will continue until success is achieved, beating the other (potential) SLS record. SpaceX demonstrated this ability once with the Starship when it completed five flights of five different prototypes in less than six months. As a result, it is likely that by the time the SLS launches for the second time in the middle of 2020, it will be Third The most powerful missile, second only to N1 and Starship.
This somewhat embarrassing annoyance should be lessened by the fact that Starship and SLS are, at present, an integral part of NASA’s Artemis program. To return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, SLS and its Orion spacecraft will transport NASA astronauts into lunar orbit, where they will board a lunar lander derived from the spacecraft. The Starship will then land these astronauts on the lunar surface, support about a week of surface operations, and then return them to lunar orbit, where Orion will bring them back to Earth.
Right now, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done before NASA and SpaceX will be ready to support this crewed landing on the moon. But Monday’s stable Starship launch and Wednesday’s potential SLS launch are important, tangible steps toward that lofty goal.
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