Elon Musk is gearing up for another attempt at launching his colossal new rocket, Starship. The first try in April didn’t go as planned, with the rocket losing control and exploding in a spectacular fashion just four minutes after takeoff in Texas. Now, SpaceX engineers have implemented “more than a thousand” changes to improve Starship’s reliability.
The upcoming launch from Boca Chica is scheduled within a 20-minute window, starting at 07:00 local time. The mission plan remains similar: sending the top part of the two-stage vehicle, the Ship, on nearly a full revolution around Earth, aiming for an ocean splashdown near Kauai, Hawaii.
Success with Starship could be groundbreaking, offering a fully reusable rocket capable of putting over a hundred tonnes in orbit at once, significantly reducing the cost of space activities. It aligns with Musk’s dream of eventually establishing a human settlement on Mars.
Musk’s mantra is to “test early, break it, and learn,” and the engineers have learned a lot from the April flight. The fiery exhaust created a massive hole under the launch pad, resembling forces found in an erupting volcano. To address this, a steel plate structure, likened to an upside-down showerhead, has been installed to dampen heat and noise at liftoff.
Improvements have also been made to the methane-burning Raptor engines. During the previous flight, some engines stopped operating, possibly damaged by flying debris. The separation of Starship’s two halves, a crucial step, didn’t occur as planned, resulting in the rocket tearing itself apart. The upcoming flight will attempt a new approach to stage separation.
If successful, Starship will head across the Gulf toward the Atlantic and Africa. Stage separation is expected about two minutes and 40 seconds into the flight, with the Ship continuing its journey for an additional five minutes and 53 seconds. SpaceX aims for the Super Heavy booster to return near the Texan coast, hover above the Gulf, and then topple over and sink.
In case of failure, experts emphasize the benefit of SpaceX’s rapid development approach, learning quickly from setbacks. The hope is that, even if things don’t go perfectly, the lessons learned will speed up the process of finding the correct solutions.