SpaceX is on the brink of yet another historic event with the impending launch of the second Starship Launch System test flight.
Anticipation is mounting as the company enters the final stages of preparation, awaiting the green light from regulatory authorities for a potential mid-November liftoff. Delays caused by procedural requirements, including the completion of the environmental review by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), have pushed the launch date slightly beyond initial projections.
First flight aftermath
Reflecting on the challenges encountered during the inaugural Starship launch on April 20, 2023, SpaceX acknowledges the issues that marred the initial flight.
Despite the complications arising from the partial ignition of several Raptor engines and subsequent technical malfunctions during ascent, the mission provided crucial insights for the company. Moreover, the absence of essential launch infrastructure, such as a flame diverter, compounded the problems, resulting in substantial damage to the launch pad and surrounding environs.
In the aftermath of the initial setback, SpaceX swiftly undertook comprehensive remedial measures. The reconstruction of the launch pad, accompanied by the implementation of a water sound suppression system, serves as a testament to the company’s commitment to mitigating potential launch hazards.
Testing and regulations
In the past weeks, SpaceX completed crucial prelaunch processing, including a successful Wet Dress Rehearsal that underlined the thoroughness of their preparation.
Starship and Super Heavy were loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant today in a flight-like rehearsal ahead of launch pic.twitter.com/VbBTdR5h9p— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 25, 2023
Despite this progress, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still awaiting the environmental review portion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a necessary step before the launch license can be fully approved.
“The FAA completed the safety review portion of the SpaceX Starship-Super Heavy license evaluation on Oct. 31”
said the agency, adding:
“The FAA is continuing to work on the environmental review. As part of its environmental review, the FAA is consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on an updated Biological Assessment under the Endangered Species Act”.
The regulatory hurdles, while causing a delay in the launch schedule, have not dampened SpaceX’s determination to achieve a successful flight. Recent activities at the launch site, including increased engagement by the Fish and Wildlife Service, indicate a hopeful sign of imminent progress.
Meanwhile, SpaceX’s operational decisions, such as the unexpected stacking and destacking of Ship 25 atop Booster 9 within a 24-hour timeframe, have left some of us observers really intrigued. The absence of an official explanation from SpaceX has only fueled speculation, leading to increased curiosity regarding the intricacies of the launch process.
Looking ahead, once the environmental review is completed, several crucial steps will follow, including media accreditation for designated areas dedicated to photographers for capturing the launch, and the final processing at the launch pad. This will involve necessary safety measures, including the arming of the Flight Termination System (FTS) on Ship 25, a critical component designed to ensure safety in the event of any deviation from the planned trajectory.
In the upcoming launch, SpaceX is once again eyeing a morning liftoff around 8 am local time in South Texas. The proposed date tentatively set is November 13, sources told Space Voyaging, subject of course to potential adjustments.
The outlined flight plan, updated on SpaceX’s website on November 3rd, closely mirrors that of the initial test, projecting a 90-minute journey for the Starship upper stage, culminating in a controlled splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Kauai, while the Super Heavy Booster will try a vertical landing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Distinguishing this upcoming test is the incorporation of a “hot staging” ring between the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage. This innovative approach entails the ignition of the Starship’s Raptor engines before the separation of the first and second stages, promising an enhanced payload capacity for the Starship.
Elon Musk himself lauded this modification, projecting a substantial 10 percent increase in the rocket’s payload capability.
No recovery, but the Moon awaits…
Notably, SpaceX has clarified that no recovery efforts will be undertaken for either stage of the launch vehicle during this flight. Instead, the primary objective remains demonstrating the flight capabilities of the Super Heavy rocket and, if successful, affirming the performance of the Starship.
As SpaceX gears up for this significant launch, the successful execution of the mission will not only serve as a testament to their technical prowess but also signal a promising trajectory toward achieving orbital velocity, a milestone that could pave the way for the transition from test flights to a fully operational rocket.
Single engine static fire demonstrating flight-like startup for a Starship deorbit burn pic.twitter.com/gX4GPRcN7n— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 20, 2023
With SpaceX’s ambitious goals on the horizon, the anticipation for the outcomes of this mission extends well beyond the space community. Notably, NASA is closely monitoring the mission’s progress, as Starship plays a pivotal role in the Artemis Program, serving as the designated Human Landing System (HLS).
This marks a historic moment, as it has been over five decades since a spacecraft last landed humans on the Moon. Starship is poised to become the first spacecraft to achieve this remarkable feat, rekindling the dream of lunar exploration in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future.