SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says company made “well over a thousand” changes to the vehicle from the first flight in April.
SpaceX launched its second Starship rocket flight on Saturday morning.
The vehicle hit several milestones, including separation, before breaking apart.
Liftoff came a few minutes after 8 a.m. ET from its Starbase facility near Boca Chica, Texas.
Starship flew for more than seven minutes, successfully separating from its booster before the rocket’s onboard system intentionally destroyed the vehicle mid-flight.
No people were on board the test flight.
“We have lost the data from the second stage … what we do believe right now is that the Automated Flight Termination System on the second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn,” John Insprucker, SpaceX principal integration engineer, said on the company’s webcast.
IMO IFT-2 was a success because:
✅ Hot-staging seemed to work
✅ Pad seemed to work better
✅ Flight termination WORKED
✅ 33 engines on ascent
Bar goes up for IFT-3–I think Starship needs to make it to the Pacific next timepic.twitter.com/NllA3Gyezi
— Chris Combs (iterative design enjoyer) (@DrChrisCombs) November 18, 2023
It appears that the detonation of in this flight may have been intentional, as there were apparently technical problems that prohibited the successful continuation of the flight.
What we saw was the Starship rocket lift-off from Texas and get through the crucial staging – the separation of the two halves of the rocket.
The top part, the Ship, carried on. It was supposed to continue on its assent for about eight-and-a-half minutes.
Either just before that or just after the computer on board basically destroyed the vehicle.
Why? Because eventually the velocity of this vehicle – at about 140km above the Earth – would’ve taken it over Africa. But if something was wrong, which clearly there was, then the computer would’ve destroyed the vehicle at the earliest opportunity so the debris came down over the Atlantic Ocean and not on land over Africa.
SuperHeavy booster did experience “rapid, unscheduled disassembly”, but after successfully detaching from Starship.
Major win for Musk and team, today. pic.twitter.com/OPP1sbWUXT
— Bree A Dail (@breeadail) November 18, 2023
The second launch built upon the lessons learned from the first launch, which ended in “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”
… SpaceX commentators said the primary goal of the flight, testing the hot-staging system for separating the upper and lower stages, appeared to work as planned.
Likewise, all 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy and the six powering the Starship appeared to fire normal for as long as the vehicles were visible. How other upgrades implemented in the wake of the April failure performed Saturday remains to be seen.
NASA is spending billions for a variant of the Starship to carry Artemis astronauts back to the surface of the moon. SpaceX is counting on the rocket to vastly expand its fleet of Starlink internet satellites and to power eventual low-cost government and commercial flights to the moon, Mars and beyond in keeping with founder Elon Musk’s drive to make humanity a “multi-planet species.”
Multiple test flights will be needed to demonstrate the reliability required for astronaut flights and it’s not yet clear how long that might take. While Saturday’s launch was far from a complete success, it did demonstrate solid engine performance and successful stage separation.
With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 18, 2023
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk indicated changes were also made to ground operations due to the lessons learned in April’s launch.
Musk said in June that the company made “well over a thousand” changes to the vehicle from the first flight. Besides fixes to correct the problems that caused the failure of the first flight, the biggest change for this mission was to switch to the hot staging approach.
SpaceX also improved ground infrastructure, which was damaged by the exhaust of the Super Heavy’s Raptor engines, sending debris as far as 10 kilometers from the pad. The company installed a water deluge system intended to protect the concrete pad from damage. That system, though, required an environmental review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that delayed completion of an updated Federal Aviation Administration launch license until Nov. 15.
Starship in flight: All 33 Raptors on the Super Heavy booster burning!
What an incredible sight from Starbase! pic.twitter.com/YhVhMwUCZ4
— John Kraus (@johnkrausphotos) November 18, 2023
Eventually, NASA intends to utilize Starship vehicles for its Artemis program that will return astronauts to the Moon.
Eventually, Starship and Super Heavy will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Musk said the spaceship is designed to be “caught” by the launch tower arms, making a controlled landing at the same location where it launched.
NASA has tapped SpaceX’s Starship flight system to land the Artemis astronauts on the Moon in 2025, but many test flights are needed before Starship flies people or payloads.
SpaceX engineers will go over all the data from this second test flight, make additional changes and then do it all over again – and again.
I am looking forward to seeing more success, and perhaps less “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” on the third test flight.DONATE
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