SpaceX engineers in Texas cranked up the world’s most powerful rocket Thursday, firing 31 methane-burning Raptor engines in the company’s gargantuan Super Heavy booster for a seven-second test run to help clear the way for an unpiloted maiden flight as early as next month.

Capable of generating up to 16.5 million pounds of thrust — twice the power of NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket — the Raptors at the base of the Super Heavy first stage roared to life at 4:14 p.m. EST, shattering the afternoon calm at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, test facility.

SpaceX’s huge Super Heavy first stage booster was loaded with liquid oxygen and methane propellants Thursday for an all-up test firing of its powerful Raptor engines in a prelude to an unpiloted maiden fight to orbit next month or shortly thereafter. Note: The countdown clock on the screen was a few seconds behind the actual test.


Held firmly to its launch mount, the 230-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide Super Heavy was enveloped in a churning cloud of orange exhaust as the engines generated a torrent of incandescent fire and a deafening roar before shutting down about seven seconds after ignition.

The rocket was equipped with 33 Raptor engines, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that engineers disabled one engine just before ignition and “1 stopped itself, so 31 engines fired overall.”

“But still enough engines to reach orbit!” he added.

For actual flights, the rocket will be made up of the Super Heavy first stage and a 160-foot-tall second stage — known as the Starship — that will use a half-dozen methane-oxygen Raptor engines. Both stages are fully reusable.

Assuming no major problems are found when engineers review data from Thursday’s test, and assuming approval of a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, SpaceX could be ready to launch the first Super Heavy-Starship sometime next month, or shortly thereafter.

“It’s really the final ground test that we can do before we light ’em up and go,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, quoted by Space News, said during an FAA conference Wednesday. “That first flight test is going to be really exciting. It’s going to happen in the next month or so.”

Dramatic views of the test firing were captured by LabPadre and posted in realtime on YouTube.


The Super Heavy-Starship is a critical element in SpaceX’s long-term plans, as well as NASA’s Artemis moon program.

The California rocket builder has a grandiose strategy for using the Starship to launch thousands of Starlink internet satellites, as well as commercial payloads and private astronauts on flights to low-Earth orbit, the moon and beyond.

NASA’s Artemis program also relies on the Starship. SpaceX holds a $2.9 billion contract to build a variant of the Starship that will serve as NASA’s lunar lander, carrying astronauts to the surface of the moon and back to orbit.

The architecture will require multiple launches of Super Heavy-Starship tankers to deliver propellants to robotically refuel the lunar lander before it heads for the moon.

NASA is holding out hope for a moon landing in the 2025-26 timeframe, but that assumes the Super Heavy-Starship is operational, with at least one unpiloted moon landing under its belt.

“We will go for a test flight, and we will learn from the test flight and we will do more test flights,” Space News quoted Shotwell. “The real goal is to not blow up the launch pad. That is success.”