SpaceX engineers are putting in rigorous efforts to achieve a crucial milestone before the year's end: sending the Starship prototype to orbit from their Starbase facility situated in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. The eagerly anticipated launch of the stainless-steel prototypes, Starship SN25 and Super Heavy Booster 9, hinges on successful pre-flight testing and the acquisition of a spaceflight license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
The first attempt in April provided awe-inspiring moments as the engines ignited, propelling the 394-foot-tall rocket-ship off the launch pad; it reached a max altitude of around 39 kilometers but the first fully-integrated flight was marred by multiple engine shutdowns, leading to an unceremonious end for the vehicle. Despite a successful liftoff, the subsequent test phases like stage-separation did not occur. Determined to rectify these shortcomings, SpaceX engineers have been working diligently on upgrades to ensure a more successful second test flight.
New images released by SpaceX today highlight a major upgrade on the Starship prototype: the installation of a hot staging ring on the Super Heavy booster. This crucial addition, referred to as the "vented interstage," is a pivotal component of the hot-staging mechanism that SpaceX is implementing for the next orbital test flight attempt. This innovative approach involves igniting the Starship’s Raptor engines while the Super Heavy booster engines are still firing, allowing for a seamless transition during stage separation.
SpaceX founder Chief Engineer Elon Musk shared some details about these advancements during a recent X-Spaces discussion, expressing a 60% probability of success for the upcoming flight, a significant increase from the first 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 [of] this next flight working, getting to orbit, is much higher than the last one. Maybe it’s like 60%,” he said.
One of the most prominent upgrades is the vented interstage extension added to the booster (pictured below), designed to manage the super-hot plasma produced by the upper-stage engines during ignition. This venting mechanism aims to prevent the upper-engine plume from damaging the rocket during separation. “Vented interstage and heat shield installed atop Booster 9. Starship and Super Heavy are being upgraded to use a separation method called hot-staging, where Starship’s second stage engines will ignite to push the ship away from the booster,” shared SpaceX representatives on August 18.
“[...] We made sort of a late-breaking change that’s really quite significant to the way that stage separation works,” Musk 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 during the X-Spaces discussion in June.
The intricate engineering behind these upgrades is evident in the new images of the stainless-steel interstage extension. This component is a key element in enabling Starship's engines to ignite while the booster engines are still active, showcasing SpaceX's dedication to pushing the boundaries of spaceflight technology.
As the momentum builds for the second Starship test flight, anticipation is growing within the space community and beyond. With a flurry of upgrades aimed at addressing the challenges faced during the initial flight, SpaceX is working tirelessly to usher in a new era of space travel, potentially culminating in a successful orbital test flight by the end of the year.
Vented interstage and heat shield installed atop Booster 9. Starship and Super Heavy are being upgraded to use a separation method called hot-staging, where Starship’s second stage engines will ignite to push the ship away from the booster pic.twitter.com/UbMpciGJqd— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 18, 2023
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Featured Images 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.