Starship Prepared for Second Test Flight Following Upgrades

SpaceX’s Starship is set for its second test flight after obtaining final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and US Fish and Wildlife Service. The launch is scheduled for November 18 at 7:00 AM CST, following a one-day delay to fix an issue with Booster 9’s grid fin actuators.

The first test flight of Starship, which took place on April 20, 2023, faced several challenges resulting in the loss of control and the destruction of Booster 7 and Ship 24. To address these issues, SpaceX implemented several changes to the booster, ship, and launch pad.

During the initial flight, Booster 7 experienced fires in its engine compartment due to methane build-up caused by propellant leaks in the vehicle’s aft section. These fires resulted in wire bundles melting and burning, leading to the loss of control over most of the booster’s engines. To prevent similar incidents, SpaceX upgraded the engine section purge system by incorporating larger supply tanks and additional vents to vent out the gases away from the vehicle.

Additionally, SpaceX made significant upgrades to the flight termination system on both vehicles. Larger explosive charges were added and relocated to a more effective location to ensure proper termination of the flight if necessary.

One notable change for the second flight is the introduction of hot staging. This involves igniting the ship’s engines and separating it from the booster while some engines are still running. This modification increases the ship’s payload capacity and simplifies the separation system.

After the first test flight, the Orbital Launch Pad (OLP) suffered significant damage, including a massive crater caused by engine ramp-up and a slower initial ascent than predicted. To prevent future damage, SpaceX worked on a water deluge system, which was not ready in time for the first flight. The company quickly repaired the damage and reinforced the launch pad’s foundation with concrete pilings. They also installed a water deluge flame deflector to protect the steel plate from the exhaust of the Raptors. These upgrades are expected to minimize damage during the second test flight.

The launch sequence for the second flight is not expected to change significantly, except for reducing the engine ramp-up time from six seconds to three seconds. The trajectory and landing locations for Ship 25 and Booster 9 remain the same as planned for the first flight.

SpaceX aims to launch on November 18, with backup opportunities available on November 19 and 20. The launch window for the primary opportunity opens at 7:00 AM CST and lasts for 20 minutes. If a scrub occurs, requiring a refill of propellants, a 48-hour turnaround will be necessary.

The main goal of the second flight is to test the effectiveness of the upgrades to Booster 9 and ensure a successful stage separation. Once this milestone is achieved, SpaceX plans to focus on testing reentry and booster recovery. Future flights are expected to follow a sequential order, with Ship 28 and Booster 10 planned for the third flight.

Modifications to the launch license will be required for the third flight, and any anomalies during the second flight will trigger a mishap investigation before subsequent launches can take place.

As SpaceX continues to upgrade its ships and boosters, sequential pairings are expected to be maintained for future flights. However, there is a possibility of ground test vehicles being introduced later on.

Overall, SpaceX’s Starship is ready for its second test flight, equipped with upgrades and improvements designed to address previous issues. The company aims to achieve successful stage separation and continue progressing towards reentry and booster recovery testing in subsequent flights.