The Staship Full-Stack fully-fueled on the Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, Texas, dumping the excess of Liquid Methane from the Booster. Credits: Nic Ansuini for NSF

SpaceX’s Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal

SpaceX has completed a wet-dress rehearsal test for its fully-assembled Starship on its first attempt, taking a big step towards the first orbital launch

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has accomplished a significant wet-dress rehearsal test for its fully-assembled Starship rocket on its first attempt, taking a big step towards the first orbital launch attempt.

This achievement was a bit unexpected, as the firm has typically prioritized speed and anticipated failures in the development of the rocket.

The rocket, measuring around 120 meters tall and 9 meters wide, is the largest ever assembled. It is meant to launch more than 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) in a fully-reusable configuration. At liftoff, 33 Raptor engines underneath the Booster will produce up to 7590 tons of thrust, making it more powerful than any rocket in history by a large margin.


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Testing and Development Approach

On Monday, January 23rd, the rocket likely became the heaviest rocket ever after SpaceX fully loaded the vehicle with propellant.

The Staship Full-Stack fully-fueled on the Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, Texas, dumping the excess of Liquid Methane from the Booster. Credits: Nic Ansuini for NSF
The Staship Full-Stack fully-fueled on the Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, Texas, dumping the excess of Liquid Methane from the Booster. Credits: Nic Ansuini for NSF

Since SpaceX began assembling the prototype in an empty Texas field in 2018, the program has been almost exclusively managed to prioritize speed and anticipate failures. The company almost always preferred to construct, test, and learn from minimum-viable-product prototypes as quickly as possible, even if that meant that failures were guaranteed.

SpaceX anticipated failures and used them as opportunities to learn, always having a backup prototype to continue the development process. These prototypes rarely completed ground or flight tests on their first try, as SpaceX was simultaneously learning – often with catastrophic results – how to test and operate those vehicles.

Panorama of the SpaceX Starship SN8 Wreckage after the 15km Flight Test. Credits: Steve Jurvetson
Panorama of the SpaceX Starship SN8 Wreckage after the 15km Flight Test. Credits: Steve Jurvetson

The culmination of that failure-as-an-option strategy was a series of seven suborbital tests – two short hops of identical prototypes and five launch and landing attempts of five more advanced prototypes between August 2020 and May 2021.

Starship potrotypes SN9 and SN10 awaiting their flights, and Starhopper, at the Suborbital Launch Site in Starbase, Texas. Credits: SpaceX
Starship prototypes SN9 and SN10 awaiting their flights, and Starhopper, at the Suborbital Launch Site in Starbase, Texas. Credits: SpaceX

On the fifth attempt, after four failures, a full-scale prototype (SN15) successfully launched to 12.5 kilometers, shut off its engines, fell back to Earth, reignited its engines, flipped around, and landed in one piece.


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A Change In The Approach

In the second half of 2022, however, SpaceX decided to dramatically change the program’s approach to risk management and systems engineering.

The testing has become exceptionally cautious over the last several months, as a result. This change in approach appears to have paid off, as the company was able to complete a full flight-like wet dress rehearsal test and gather data that will “help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of the rocket and the orbital pad fueling systems”, according to the company.

Elon Musk has confirmed the possibility of launching the world’s largest and most powerful rocket in a matter of weeks: several key milestones are being worked on to ready the vehicle for space. The Wet-Dress Rehearsal (WDR) appeared to go according to plan.

Ship 24 (the upper stage) along with its First Stage, Booster 7, collectively completed dozens of separate proof tests and static fires since mid-2022. This was a first-time test for the full-stack configuration.


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The Plan Ahead

The rocket is being developed in partnership with NASA’s Artemis program and will be used in the return of humans to the surface of the Moon under NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract.

Artist’s rendering of SpaceX Starship Human Lander Design. Credits: SpaceX
Artist’s rendering of SpaceX Starship Human Lander Design. Credits: SpaceX

Booster 7 will now undergo the highly anticipated 33-Engine Static Fire Test, that if successful, will confirm the good status of the vehicle before the launch of the full-stack rocket.

According to public plans, Booster 7 is set to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, with Ship 24 conducting a water landing near Hawaii.

The Starship Full-Stack fully-fueled before detanking, sitting on the Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, Texas, as seen from the SpaceX's Drone. Credits: SpaceX
The Starship Full-Stack fully-fueled before detanking, sitting on the Orbital Launch Pad at Starbase, Texas, as seen from the SpaceX’s Drone. Credits: SpaceX

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Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

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