The spacecraft may have had a blast on Saturday (November 18), but there was a lot to like about the giant craft’s second-ever test flight, SpaceX says.
The test mission aims to send Starship’s 165-foot (50-meter) upper stage most of the way around Earth, from SpaceX’s Starbase in south Texas to a region of the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
This did not happen. The upper stage, known as Starship, exploded about eight minutes after launch, the same fate that befell the vehicle’s massive first stage, called Super Heavy, 4.5 minutes earlier. However, the giant next-generation rocket achieved a number of important milestones on Saturday, including a smooth liftoff.
“All 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy Booster successfully started and, for the first time, completed a full burn during ascent,” SpaceX wrote in a recent article. Update the task.
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The spacecraft was also successfully separated from Super Heavy, via a technique known as “hot staging.”
About 2.5 minutes into the flight, Super Heavy began “shutting down all but three Super Heavy Raptor engines, and successfully ignited the six second stage Raptor engines before separating the vehicles,” SpaceX wrote in the update. “This was the first time this technology had been successfully implemented with a vehicle of this size.”
(In a “normal” stage, the upper stage engines fire after separation has already occurred.)
The Super Heavy then performed a planned “flip maneuver” and burned the booster engine, intending to steer itself into a water landing in the Gulf of Mexico. But the rocket experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” — as SpaceX refers to a breakup or explosion — about 3.5 minutes after launch.
Meanwhile, the six Raptors in the upper stage carried that vehicle to a maximum altitude of about 90 miles (150 kilometers) and a top speed of about 14,900 mph (24,000 kilometers per hour), SpaceX wrote in the update. The upper stage has almost completed the planned burn for the duration, but not quite.
“The result of the flight test occurred when telemetry was lost near the end of the second stage burn before the engine cut off more than eight minutes into the flight,” SpaceX wrote in the update. “The team verified that the safe destruction order was executed appropriately based on available vehicle performance data.”
The update does not provide a default reason for the loss of telemetry.
Saturday’s numbers represent a marked improvement over Starship’s first test flight, which launched from Starbase on April 20 with a similar goal.
A handful of Super Heavy’s Raptors ejected early during that first flight, and the vehicle’s two stages failed to separate as planned. SpaceX intentionally blew up the tumbling vehicle, which reached a maximum altitude of about 24 miles (39 km), about four minutes after liftoff.
That first flight caused extensive damage to parts of Starbase, creating a large crater beneath the site’s orbital launch pad. SpaceX installed a steel plate that jets water under the rack before the second flight to prevent such damage from recurring. SpaceX wrote in the update that this upgrade did the trick, as the launch pad successfully lifted off on Saturday in good condition.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is overseeing SpaceX’s investigation into what happened on Saturday. It’s not clear when that evaluation will end, and when the FAA will grant another launch license, but it’s clear that the company wants to fly again soon.
“The team at Starbase is already working on final preparations for the vehicles scheduled to be used in Starship’s third flight test, with static fires in the Ship and Booster coming next,” SpaceX wrote in the update, referring to brief tests examining the vehicle’s engines in the update. The period leading up to the launch.
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