She's a Beauty: SpaceX Starship Dress Rehearsal for Next Week's Test Flight

Promotional image courtesy of SpaceX via X.

SpaceX released new photos Wednesday of the latest Starship wet dress rehearsal before next week's tentative Test Flight 4 — and they are spectacular. 

With Test Flight 4, SpaceX hopes to build on the successes — and not repeat the failures — of the first three launches. The biggest issue with the first two was engines that either failed to ignite or remain firing after launch. The biggest-ever rocket uses an unprecedented 33 engines in the Super Heavy's first stage.


SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable commercial rocket has reduced the cost of launching mass into orbit by about 40% — a huge and previously unimaginable reduction. Starship's thrust, cavernous cargo area, and rapid reusability promise radical cost savings over Falcon 9 — plus the ability to carry up to 100 passengers "on long duration, interplanetary flights," according to the company.

Let me give you a better idea of what that means in less fanciful-sounding terms. Falcon 9 can launch 23 of Starlink's half-size Gen2 internet satellites into Low Earth Orbit at a cost of about $67 million. Starship will be able to carry 60 of the full-size versions with the cost eventually coming down to between $2 and $5 million per launch.

NASA can't even file launch paperwork for less than $2 million. (I kid, I kid — but not by much.)

Now let's see those photos I promised.

That first photo — the same one that sits atop this article — looks like the Space Shuttle...


...if the Space Shuttle had been designed in the 1930s by the people who gave us the original Buck Rogers. She's a beauty, indeed.

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A wet dress rehearsal (WDR) consists of filling up a rocket with its super-combustive mix of super-cold fuel and conducting all parts of the countdown to launch but without actually launching. The Starship being used for next week's test flight has now gone through two WDRs and, since SpaceX still plans on a June 5 flight, it would seem that there are no mission-threatening issues with the rocket. 

Assuming, that is, the FAA comes through with the regulatory approval in time.

Musk came under fire this week with a New York Times story accusing him of "using his vast power and influence to try to keep emerging rivals at bay." But Dan Piemont, founder of ABL Space Systems said, "I disagreed with the thrust of this NYT article. I admire SpaceX and welcome their success." You can read his full (and quite thorough) rebuttal of the NYT report here.

Before we get to that, however, Boeing's Starliner is set to conduct its first manned mission on Saturday, June 1, carrying mission commander Barry Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams on a Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station. CFT has been delayed more than once, the first time because of a routine issue with the proven Atlas launch vehicle, and then because of a small helium leak in the propulsion system that was then revealed to have a design flaw.


Assuming that SpaceX finally gets its regulatory approval from the FAA and Boeing and NASA have worked through all of Starliner's many bugs, this is going to be a thrilling few days for space buffs.


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