"It's chopstick time!"
SpaceX has used the pair of massive "chopsticks" on its 460-foot "Mechazilla" tower to grab its latest Starship prototype, dubbed Ship 20 — one step closer to the space company's inaugural orbital test flight later this year.
The tower is meant to serve as both the launchpad and catching mechanism for Starship and its heavy launch system. The arms are intended to clasp around either side of the roughly 400-foot Starship-and-booster stack during lift off — and ensure each of their safe arrival once they've returned.
A time lapse shared by NASASpaceFlight's Michael Baylor shows engineers slowly hooking the chopsticks to the heat shield tile-covered spacecraft.
"It's chopstick time!" Baylor wrote.
— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) February 9, 2022
Onlookers are now hoping SpaceX will attempt to stack the prototype on top of its orbital-class Super Heavy booster dubbed Booster 4 later today using the chopsticks as a lift.
But we have yet to hear clear confirmation if any such attempt is actually in the works. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk promised last week that he will give a long-awaited update on Starship on Thursday, which will also feature a full stack.
It's also worth pointing out that carefully attaching the launch stack to the robot arms is a far cry from catching a massive spacecraft as it touches down.
Last month, SpaceX moved the giant catching arms for the first time. Since then, engineers have been stress-testing the mechanism by hanging ballasts in the form of massive bags of water from the chopsticks.
If all goes well — and regulators give them the go-ahead — SpaceX could be launching its Starship spacecraft into orbit for the very first time. Given the sheer amount of Raptor rocket engines involved — an orbital-class Super Heavy booster features 29 engines alone — the risk of yet another explosion could be higher than ever.
So, needless to say, we'll certainly be watching.
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