SpaceX continues to prepare for a new Starship launch attempt and, most likely, the Starship IFT-2 mission will launch this Friday, November 17. At the very least, CEO Elon Musk assured on his X/Twitter that “launch clearance will be in time for launch this Friday.”
New date for the second launch of Starship
Back at the end of June, Elon Musk said that the probability that Starship will reach orbit during the second attempt is 60%, and the launch itself could take place in 6 weeks. Let’s remember a new tweet with a new date, and in a few days we’ll find out everything (Elon Musk’s forecasts and promises are very often deceptive), but just in case, keep it in mind.
The second orbital flight of Starship is at the final stage of preparation
A few days ago, SpaceX published a beautiful promotional video with footage of preparations for the second orbital flight of Starship as part of the IFT-2 mission – with each passing day the necessary approval of the American regulator FAA is expected as part of the Starship relicensing program after the explosive first launch. Let us recall that the first attempt of Starship to reach near-Earth orbit on April 20, 2023, despite a successful start, finally ended in an explosion and serious destruction of the site – immediately after the launch, several engines turned off without permission and the system did not reach the stage of stage separation; the rocket was detonated by a team from the control center upon reaching a maximum altitude of 39 kilometers. This event was described in more detail in a separate April article on the website.
The Starship prototype of the IFT-2 mission with both stages (70-meter booster/Super Heavy B9 first stage + 50-meter spacecraft/Starship S25 second stage) has already been assembled several times and has passed all the key stages of preparation for launch. Even earlier, the team carried out all the necessary ground tests, including several fire tests of the prototypes of the ship and the booster (again, only two engines out of 33 shut down prematurely, and the rest worked for all 6 seconds) and WDR tests (dress rehearsal of the pre-launch countdown with all stages of refueling, without ignition engines) to once again ensure the serviceability of all subsystems. In addition, SpaceX has already received a license to communicate with Starship from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – it will be valid from September 7, 2023 to February 23, 2024.
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What about the new license?
Previously, the FAA ordered SpaceX to implement 63 changes to the design of the launch vehicle and spaceport before the subsequent launch of the super-heavy Starship launch vehicle in order to “ensure the protection of public safety.” Since then, SpaceX has done serious work on the bugs and made more than 1,000 changes, taking into account the experience gained from the first attempt. At the same time, in preparation for the second attempt, a team of engineers seriously modernized the launch pad and the entire infrastructure of the spaceport in Boca Chica, where the development of the launch vehicle is concentrated. The FAA completed its safety review at the end of October, with environmental reviews and a new license in the pipeline.
Among the key changes in the design of the rocket and spaceport:
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- Under the launch pad was a massive steel plate with many small holes through which a large volume of water is sprayed under pressure. The new gas exhaust and flame extinguishing system, which in action resembles a giant shower, has previously passed several tests – it should nullify the negative impact of the jet stream from three dozen Raptor 2 engines; Last time, he destroyed the reinforced concrete base of the launch pad, forming a huge crater under it, and the fragments of stones flying tens of meters around caused a lot of damage to both the infrastructure of the cosmodrome and the surrounding areas.
- The intermediate compartment between the accelerator and the ship, thanks to which the rocket broke its own record of 120 meters and became even higher, by a couple of meters. Its purpose is a hot separation scheme, when the ignition of the second stage engines will occur while part of the first stage engines is operating. Inside this compartment is a heat shield, which, in combination with perforated side walls, should provide effective removal of hot gases and protect the integrity of the first stage during hot undocking.
Features of the Starship IFT-2 mission
Key innovations of Starship IFT-2 – compared to the first launch:
- turning on the new fire extinguishing system of the launch pad 10 seconds before the start;
- starting Super Heavy engines 3 seconds before takeoff (previously 6 seconds);
The moment when the spacecraft experiences the greatest aerodynamic pressure to exit the Earth's atmosphere at the 52nd second of flight (previously at the 55th);
- hot stage separation 2 minutes 41 seconds after launch and 2 seconds after turning off most of the Super Heavy booster engines (versus 2 minutes 52 seconds in the first flight);
- all stages from the moment the booster engines are fired at liftoff to the spacecraft's potential entry into orbit will be completed faster than during the first flight. However, the ship's return schedule is the same as during the first test.
Preparations for the second orbital flight of Starship and the accompanying advertising campaign take place against the backdrop of a scandalous Reuters investigation into hundreds of injuries at SpaceX facilities as a result of systematic safety violations. And it all seems to be due to the special philosophy of founder and CEO Elon Musk, who neglects safety measures due to his own intolerance of bureaucracy (for Musk, as a recent Reuters investigation shows, safety in enterprises is not a priority), which slows down technological progress. As a result, employees decide for themselves what is safe and what is not. And they often pay for such an irresponsible attitude to safety with their health. Read more about this in our summary of the Reuters investigation.
- Starship and Super Heavy are advanced reusable super-heavy rockets and spacecraft in development by SpaceX since at least 2016 to replace the current family of Falcon rockets and Dragon ships and intended to carry cargo and people to low Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars.
- Once commissioned, the Super Heavy+Starship system will become the most powerful in the history of space exploration. The rocket will be able to deliver cargo weighing up to 150 tons into low Earth orbit in a fully reusable configuration – with the return of both parts (70-meter Super Heavy and 50-meter Starship) to Earth, as well as the possibility of docking and refueling in orbit.
- SpaceX continues to develop, under a NASA contract, the Starship variant for the Artemis lunar program, which provides for a manned flight and landing on the Moon. At the end of 2022, NASA selected the SpaceX Starship for the second crew landing on the Moon under the Artemis program – it is not expected until 2027.
- SpaceX also plans to use Starship to launch a new generation of Internet satellites, Starlink V2.0. In addition, SpaceX plans to send a tourist delegation led by a Japanese billionaire on Starship to the Moon (non-landing flyby) (DearMoon mission) – the mission has already been postponed several times because the rocket is not yet ready. Another tourist mission on Starship is included in the Polaris program, but there are no details or even an approximate time frame yet.