SpaceX’s investment on Starship’s development has been substantial, reaching approximately $3 billion this year. The rocket-ship serves as a cornerstone for the company's ambitions to complete the deployment of its second-generation Starlink satellites and return NASA astronauts to the Lunar surface by 2025. SpaceX is gearing up for its second orbital Starship launch attempt, and founder Elon Musk is optimistic about its chances of reaching orbit. On June 24, Musk expressed his belief during a Twitter Spaces session with reporter Ashlee Vance, stating that there is a 60% probability of the 2nd flight successfully making it to orbit, significantly higher than the 1st attempt. The increased confidence stems from a “tremendous number” of overhauls made to the spacecraft, with “well over a thousand changes” implemented since the last flight test. “I think the probability this next flight working, getting to orbit, is much higher than the last one. Maybe it’s like 60%,” he says.
During the April 20 attempt to orbit, SpaceX triggered the Flight Termination System (FTS) because the stainless-steel vehicle started steering off course due to loss of communication with some of the Raptor engines. Starship did not have the opportunity to separate from the rocket during the 1st fully-integrated flight test. Musk shared that their main goal for the 2nd flight attempt is separation between Starship and Super Heavy. One significant modification they will implement involves delaying the separation between the Starship and its boosters. For the next launch, SpaceX is adopting a technique known as “hot staging,” where the Starship engines ignite and warm up while the Super Heavy booster is still active. This approach, previously employed by the Soviets and Russians in their rocket designs, allows the Starship engines to warm up properly. Musk emphasized that the success of stage separation plays a crucial role in determining the flight's outcome. “We shut down most of the engines on the booster, leaving just a few running and then at the same time, start the engines on the ship, or upper stage,” he said during the Twitter Spaces chat. “Obviously that results in kind of blasting the booster, so you've got to protect the top of the boost stage from getting incinerated by the upper stage engines.”
“We made sort of a late-breaking change that’s really quite significant to the way that stage separation works,” he shared. “There's a meaningful payload-to-orbit advantage with hot staging, that is conservatively about a 10 percent improvement if you basically just never stop thrusting. [...] In order to do this, you actually have to have vents, the super hot plasma from the upper-stage engines has got to go somewhere [...]. So we're adding an extension to [the] booster that is almost all vents, essentially. So that allows the upper-engine plume to go through the vented extension of the booster and not just blow itself up. So this is the most risky thing, I think, for the next flight,” Musk explained.
Musk also shared that Starbase builders are in the process of adding roughly 1,000 cubic meters of steel-reinforced high-strength concrete at the Boca Chica, Texas, launch tower that will be part of a ‘water-cooled steel-plate’ system. It is designed to mitigate the potential of shattering concrete caused by the 33 Raptor engine’s powerful thrust upon liftoff, like it did during the first flight. “[...] On top of that, we have a sort of a steel sandwich, which is basically two thick plates of steel that are welded together with channels going through perforations in the top so it will actually shoot a lot of water out,” he described. “Think of it like a gigantic upside-down shower head. It's going to basically blast water upwards while the rocket is over the pad to counteract the massive amount of heat from the booster. The booster is basically like the world's biggest cutting torch with a massive amount of ... heat, but also a massive amount of force,” he explained. The modifications should “the base of the pad in much better shape than last time,” he said. In addition, engineers will program the Super Heavy rocket at higher throttle to get it away from the pad faster. Listen to the full Twitter Spaces discussion in the Tweet linked below.
Simultaneously, Starbase engineers are performing pre-flight tests of the stainless-steel vehicles that will be flown on the 2nd attempt to orbit. On June 22 SpaceX conducted an engine test, utilizing Starship SN25, the upper-stage prototype intended for the upcoming Starship test mission. The test involved a flight-like chill and spin of the Raptor engine pumps. This evaluation allowed the verification of vital systems ahead of the upcoming static fire test—a common pre-launch procedure during which engines are briefly ignited while the vehicle remains anchored to the ground to assess performance. SpaceX intends to launch the second flight attempt to orbit soon, potentially within the next 6 to 8 weeks, provided Starship SN25 and Super Heavy Booster 9 pass all necessary testing requirements and regulatory approvals. The company remains dedicated to advancing the Starship program, pushing the boundaries of space exploration and paving the way for ambitious projects both in Earth's orbit and beyond.
Ship 25 completed a flight-like chill and spin of the Raptor engine pumps, stopping just before engine ignition. As a result of the test, cryogenic liquid oxygen formed a visible cloud beneath the ship. This checked out vital systems in advance of the upcoming static fire. pic.twitter.com/1rMOqlf5qM— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 22, 2023
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.