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SpaceX’s 31 Rocket Launches Set Record in South Texas

SpaceX ignited a record 31 rocket engines from South Texas all on Thursday, moving the company one more step closer to launching its behemoth Super Heavy rocket for the first time.

SpaceX Rocket Launch
(TNS) — SpaceX ignited a record 31 rocket engines from South Texas on Thursday, moving the company one step closer to launching its behemoth rocket for the first time.

These engines are all part of the Super Heavy rocket that SpaceX is building to push astronauts to the moon and Mars. The rocket never left the pad Thursday, and the flames lasted for just 5 or 6 seconds. But it was an important test for the company, which is working toward a full test launch later this year.

The Super Heavy rocket and Starship spacecraft are being developed in Boca Chica, an unincorporated area outside of Brownsville. SpaceX is preparing to send its Starship spacecraft into orbit from South Texas.

The rocket has 33 engines, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk said one engine was turned off prior to the test and the other engine shut itself off automatically.

"So 31 engines fired overall," Musk said on Twitter. "But still enough engines to reach orbit!"

The previous record holder was the the Soviet Union's N1 rocket designed to go to the moon. It had 30 engines and was launched four times between 1969 and 1972. All four ended in failure within seconds of liftoff, said Phil Smith, a space industry analyst at BryceTech.

It is very difficult to launch a rocket with so many engines. Rockets that are currently being used have no more than nine engines lit at the same time.

"As was learned with the N1, the issue right away is the number of complex parts, especially plumbing and valves," Smith said. "The N1 failed due to propulsion-related problems. An additional issue is balancing the vehicle."

The rocket can continue to climb if some engines turn off (and don't explode), Smith said, but the engines opposite of those that turned off would need to be throttled back or turned off to balance the vehicle.

The Super Heavy's 33 engines is unprecedented, but it wasn't much louder than previous tests that ignited fewer engines, said Louis Balderas, who operates the LabPadre YouTube channel airing 2 4/7 live video of SpaceX operations in South Texas.

He could hear the testing from his home on South Padre Island about 7 miles from the launch pad. And his upstairs just began to shake when the test ended. He thinks the windows would have rattled if the engines had been ignited for longer.

"It was very smooth," he said. "It sounded like an extra long rumble of thunder."

But it wasn't just the locals watching Thursday's test. The SpaceX activity in South Texas is crucial to NASA's Artemis Program that's working to return astronauts to the moon.

NASA developed a capsule the can take astronauts to the moon, but it can't get them to the surface. So the government agency is relying on the SpaceX Starship spacecraft (launched by the company's Super Heavy rocket) to get astronauts on the moon. The SpaceX Super Heavy rocket will launch an empty Starship toward the moon, and astronauts will transfer into the Starship spacecraft to land on the lunar surface.

© 2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.