SpaceX’s ambitious Starship project encounters a minor setback as the scheduled launch of its second full-scale Starship rocket from South Texas sees a slight delay, now aiming for Saturday, November 18, a day beyond the initial plan.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, shared this update, attributing the 24-hour delay to the need for a crucial component replacement on the stainless steel Super Heavy booster: one of the grid fins electric actuator.
We need to replace a grid fin actuator, so launch is postponed to Saturday— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 16, 2023
The launch window on Saturday is set for 7 am CST (13:00 UTC), aligning with the sunrise in South Texas. The decision to replace a part on the rocket’s booster highlights the intricate nature of the Starship, a colossal launch vehicle equipped with 39 powerful methane-burning engines – considering both stages – generating an impressive half-million pounds of thrust.
Quick response to the problem
This marks only the second test flight of SpaceX’s monumental nearly 400-foot-tall (121-meter) rocket, establishing itself as the largest launch vehicle ever constructed and launched.
Despite the delay, the expeditious pace of progress at SpaceX’s Starbase, situated on the Texas Gulf Coast, remains noteworthy. The decision to replace the component atop the Super Heavy booster prompted a swift response from SpaceX technicians.
The Starship vehicle, towering at 15 stories, was promptly detached from the rocket first stage below using metallic arms, colloquially known as “chopsticks”. This (now) routine operation allowed technicians access to the Hot Staging Ring, a component designed to protect the booster from Starship’s engines during startup and staging process. Once removed, engineers finally got access to the Super Heavy booster for the necessary part replacement.
The specific component requiring attention is a grid fin actuator, one of four on the Super Heavy booster.
These grid fins, functioning akin to small wings, contribute to aerodynamic stability and assist in steering during the booster’s descent. For this particular test flight, SpaceX aims to guide the booster to a controlled engine-assisted water landing in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 20 miles (~32 km) off the Texas coast.
All licenses are good to go
Upon replacing the part, the Starship upper stage, designated as “Ship 25”, will be reinstated atop the Super Heavy first stage, “Booster 9”. Following additional checks, SpaceX anticipates a potential green light for the final countdown early on Saturday.
SpaceX obtained a commercial launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday, following thorough safety and environmental reviews. These reviews were initiated after the first Starship test flight in April, which ended in a loss of control and self-destruction shortly after liftoff.
In preparation for this launch, SpaceX implemented various enhancements, including a new water deluge system on the launch pad to absorb heat and acoustic energy generated by the simultaneous ignition of 33 booster engines.
Additionally, modifications were made to the rocket’s stage separation system, thrust vector control, and improvements to minimize the risk of fuel leaks. Check out our recent article to know more.
Fail fast, learn fast
Despite the experimental nature of this test flight, SpaceX acknowledges the potential for learning experiences that could lead to further design adjustments.
The flight’s success hinges on various factors as Starship aims for a global journey, reaching an altitude of approximately 150 miles (~240km) before reentering the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean for a targeted splashdown northwest of Hawaii.
While this mission is a vital learning exercise for the Starship project, SpaceX emphasizes the importance of rapid iterative development as they strive to establish a fully reusable launch system capable of accommodating a diverse range of missions, from deploying satellites to lunar and Martian landings.