The biggest rocket ever built has just been spotted from space.
SpaceX stacked its massive Starship vehicle earlier this week, placing the Ship 24 spacecraft atop the Booster 7 first stage at the company’s Starbase site near the South Texas town of Brownsville.
Together, the Ship 24-Booster 7 duo stands about 120 meters tall, making it taller than NASA’s iconic Saturn V moon rocket and the agency’s new Space Launch System, which recently launched the Artemis 1 lunar mission. The spacecraft is large enough to be spotted from orbit by sharp-eyed satellites, new images show.
Video: SpaceX fires up multiple engines on Starship Super Heavy booster for the first time
“Hey Starship, we’re watching you from space!” the European aerospace giant Airbus tweeted on Thursday (opens in a new tab) (January 12), in a post that included a photo of the Starship stack taken by one of the company’s Pleiades Neo satellites.
Airbus currently operates two Pleiades Neo Earth-imaging spacecraft, which are capable of resolving features as small as 12 inches (30 centimeters) from their perch in low Earth orbit. Two other Pleiades Neo satellites were due to go up in December 2022, but they were lost when their Arianespace Vega C rocket failed during liftoff.
Hey Starship, we’re watching you from space! 👋🛰 #PléiadesNeo pic.twitter.com/xeF5Y35T9zJanuary 12, 2023
SpaceX tweeted amazing pictures (opens in a new tab) of the newly stacked Starship on Thursday as well. These shots, taken from much closer to the ground, show the stainless steel vehicle and its huge “Mechazilla” launch tower rising through low clouds at Starbase, which sits right on the Gulf of Mexico .
SpaceX is preparing Ship 24 and Booster 7 for an orbital test flight, the first ever for a Starship vehicle. This crucial lawsuit could start as early as the end of February, said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.
The ship will be unstacked before that happens, however. SpaceX wants to perform a full 33-engine static firing with Booster 7, Musk said recently, and that test will take place without ship 24 attached. (Static fires, in which engines are briefly ignited while a vehicle remains anchored to the ground, are a common pre-launch test.)
Like Booster 7, Ship 24 is powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine. Ship 24 illuminated its six Raptors during a static fire in September 2022. Booster 7’s static fires have never involved more than 14 of its engines.
Starship has already been stacked and unstacked. SpaceX placed Ship 24 atop Booster 7 twice in October 2022, for example.
The orbital test flight will be Starship’s first liftoff in nearly two years. Starship’s most recent launch involved a three-engine upper-stage prototype called SN15, which flew about 10 kilometers through Texas skies in May 2021 and came back down for a soft landing.
SpaceX isn’t just focused on Starship, of course; the company is also working on several missions with other vehicles at the moment.
On Saturday January 14, for example, SpaceX plans to launch a mission for the US Space Force using its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket. And a SpaceX Falcon 9 will orbit 51 of the company’s Starlink internet satellites on Sunday morning (January 15), if all goes according to plan.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).