SpaceX photos show Super Heavy booster heading to launchpad

SpaceX's Super Heavy booster on its way to the launchpad.
SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster on its way to the launchpad. SpaceX

SpaceX has shared photos of the Super Heavy booster being transported to the launchpad at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, ahead of the Starship’s fifth test flight, which is expected to take place in the first half of August.

Flight 5 Super Heavy booster moved to the pad at Starbase

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 9, 2024

The next part of the preparation will involve placing the Starship spacecraft atop the first-stage Super Heavy. Collectively, the vehicle is called the Starship.

Packing 17 million pounds of thrust at launch, the 120-meter-tall Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever to fly. That’s double that of NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which has flown once to date, and more than twice that of the legendary Saturn V rocket, which powered astronauts toward the moon as part of the Apollo missions five decades ago.

When the Starship has been fully tested and licensed for operational flights, it will likely be used to transport crew and cargo to the moon. More ambitiously, it could also be used for the first crewed flight to Mars, though much work still needs to be done for that to happen.

The Starship first launched in 2023 in a test flight that lasted only a matter of minutes before an anomaly forced SpaceX ground controllers to destroy the rocket in midair. The second flight lasted a little longer before suffering a similar fate, though that time the rocket managed to achieve stage separation.

Two subsequent tests, the most recent of which took place last month, enjoyed much greater success, with the Super Heavy fulfilling its missions goals and achieving a landing burn before coming down in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Starship reaching orbit.

The fifth test flight will see the SpaceX team try something entirely new as it attempts to use the mechanical arms on the launch tower to “catch” the first-stage booster as it comes in to land.

Bringing the Super Heavy home in this way will allow SpaceX to reuse the booster for multiple missions, helping it to cut costs. There’s certainly no guarantee that the catching maneuver will work at the first attempt, but judging by the success SpaceX has had with landing and reusing its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket (albeit using landing legs rather than mechanical arms), there is a high degree of confidence that the team will nail the maneuver before too long.

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