SpaceX refueled a fully stacked spacecraft for the first time ever on Monday (January 23), and dramatic photos preserve the process for posterity.
That’s a dramatic color change for the silver spacecraft, caused by the loading of more than 10 million pounds (450,000 kilograms) of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid methane fuel into the stainless steel craft’s tanks.
The refueling was part of a landmark “wet dress rehearsal”. SpaceX performed on Monday at its starbase facility in South Texas.
During the wet dress rehearsals, mission teams practice many of the procedures they will perform on launch day. Monday’s test will help SpaceX Prepare for a very important Starship launch – the vehicle’s first-ever orbital test flight conducted by the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said could happen already next month.
But this spacecraft, which consists of a first-stage prototype called Booster 7 and an upper-stage spacecraft called Ship 24, still has to pass some tests before it can embark on this milestone flight, SpaceX explained.
“Upon completion of Starship’s first flight-like wet-dress rehearsal, Ship 24 will be unstacked from Booster 7 in preparation for static fire of the booster’s 33 Raptor engines,” the company said in another Tuesday tweet (opens in new tab).
Static fires are another common pre-launch test in which engines are briefly ignited while a vehicle remains anchored to the ground. To date, Booster 7 has fired maximally statically 14 of his 33 Raptors at once. Ship 24 lit up all six of his raptors last September.
SpaceX has big plans for Starship. Musk, for example, thinks the giant vehicle could be manufactured soon Mars Billing economically feasible. And he has said that Starship will eventually take over most, if not all, of SpaceX’s space missions.
NASA is also investing in Starship. For example, the agency chose the vehicle as the first manned lander for it Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent, sustainable presence on and around the Moon by the late 2020s. A spacecraft will first land astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or so, if all goes according to plan.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or he Facebook (opens in new tab).