Space X was serious about its announcement that the Super Heavy-lift rocket Starship would undergo its second flight this week. The formal prerequisites for this have been established by the authorities: On Wednesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officially gave the green light for the launch. “The FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy and financial responsibility requirements,” stated the agency in its report via X (formerly Twitter):
Space X subsequently reaffirmed its launch plans: On Friday at 8 a.m. local time (2 p.m. CET), the Starship is set to ascend once again from the Space X spaceport Starbase in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas. The launch window is specified as two hours. Preparations and lift-off will be streamed live starting 30 minutes before launch. Current weather forecasts remain favorable: sunshine and minimal wind.
Cost-effective Heavy Lifter
The Starship is a 122-meter-tall and nine-meter-thick rocket primarily designed for heavy payloads. It weighs around 5,000 tons (pre-launch) and is intended to carry up to 100 tons of payload into orbit in the future. For comparison, the Saturn V used in the moon missions was 110 meters tall and up to 3,000 tons heavy. Only in its diameter of 10.1 meters did it surpass the Starship.
The rocket consists of the Super Heavy booster with 33 Raptor engines and, on the upper stage, the actual Starship with six engines (three for vacuum flights). Both elements are designed for complete reusability and rapid reusability. Space X hopes to reduce launch costs through this approach. On Friday, the prototypes Booster BN9 and Starship SN25 will be utilized.
Their predecessors, Starship SN24 and Booster BN7, were destroyed four minutes after lift-off on April 20, 2023, 30 kilometers above the ground due to an explosion. One of the reasons was an unprotected launch pad that was almost completely destroyed during the launch. Flying concrete debris could have damaged some of the booster’s Raptor engines, causing a loss of thrust. The launch pad in Boca Chica has now been restored and equipped with a cooling system, making the facility capable of withstanding the immense forces and temperatures of a rocket launch.
Another issue during the first launch was the separation process between the two stages, which apparently did not go as planned. To prevent a recurrence of a disturbance in this area, Space X’s engineering team has made some changes. The most significant one is that now the upper stage ignites its engines during the separation from the booster stage. A new venting system had to be developed for this process. Additionally, a new electronic thrust vector control system (TVC) is employed for the Raptor engines.
Whether the modification leads to the desired result will be evident two minutes and 41 seconds after launch. At this crucial moment, according to Space X, the hot-staging phase should be initiated, where the Raptor engines of the Starship ignite and the separation from the booster is completed. If this maneuver succeeds and the rest goes according to plan, the ship is expected to fly from the Starbase over the Gulf of Mexico, eastward over Asia, and ultimately, after 90 minutes and three-quarters of an orbit around the Earth, plunge into the Pacific near Hawaii.