What’s next for Starship and Super Heavy booster?

That’s not going to buff out

Musk didn’t wait long to bounce back. He has thus just announced that SpaceX will attempt a new Starship orbital flight in two months at the latest, which means no later than the third week of June.

He made the announcement after a post on Twitter from journalist Eric Berger saying that “the damage in Boca Chica at the Starbase launch site looks pretty serious, but a former senior SpaceXer from there says he believes the pad can be repaired; and a (water-cooled?) flame diverter installed in 4 to 6 months. Just passing on what I was told.” 

Musk responded. “3 months ago, we started building a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount,” the tech mogul said on Apr. 21, just 24 hours after the explosion. “Wasn’t ready in time and we wrongly thought, based on static fire data, that Fondag would make it through one launch. Looks like we can be ready to launch again in 1 to 2 months,” he added without providing an exact date.

Aware that this schedule is hyper ambitious, Musk then explained, on Apr. 22, that the engines may have caused unexpected damage. “Still early in analysis, but the force of the engines when they throttled up may have shattered the concrete, rather than simply eroding it,” he argued. “The engines were only at half thrust for the static fire test.”


Comment: Elon is certainly optimistic and the launch was successful in that a hell of a lot was learned. Spacex has a clear path for realizing a host of improvements for the next launch. But I doubt they’ll be ready to go in one or two months.

The launch pad design was a huge mistake. Although constructed with super strength fondag concrete, it was no match for all those raptor engines at 90% throttle. The mistake of the launch pad design and construction may be what lead to a failure of eight out of thirty three Raptor 2 engines. The debris kicked up during launch probably damaged and cause the failure of those eight engines. Because of that, acceleration was not “nominal” by any stretch of the imagination.

Another design flaw was the planned manner of stage separation. The intent was to tip the rocket a bit and the Starship will naturally separate from the booster. Well the rocket did a 360 flip and the Starship still did not separate. A simple change in technique may fix that.

Another problem was the destruct technique. Explosive charges on each of the fuel tanks were supposed to cause the entire rocket to destruct rapidly. What happened was the explosive charges poked holes in the tanks causing plumes of fuel to vent uncontrollably before the whole contraption eventually exploded. The FAA is going to want that fixed before they issue clearance for the next launch. In fact, I’m pretty sure the FAA will want a full report of what went wrong and how it was fixed before issuing clearance. The investigation will not be a one to two month process. It never was for any NASA catastrophic launch failure.

Elon’s “let ‘er rip and see what happens” philosophy may have SpaceX ready to launch in two months, but I doubt that will satisfy the FAA. My guess is that they’ll first want to see a redesigned launch pad tested at 90% throttle and a redesigned self-destruct mechanism. It’s all doable, but we’re a long way from colonizing Mars.



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12 Responses to What’s next for Starship and Super Heavy booster?

  1. Babeltuap says:

    Failure is baked into it. I heard reports some of the debris hit homes. Not sure if true but it could have killed people. As for going to Mars, I don’t expect it to happen for another 30 years. Getting there is one thing. The dust and storms however is a whole other problem. Musk even said people are going to die. He literally said that many will absolutely die. Now who wants to be first?

    • Billy Roche says:

      Not me. I don’t have that big a set. But consider the explorers of the 15th and 16th century who sailed round the world and those of the 18th and 19th who went to the Antartic in wooden ships. There are always some who are willing to go where no one has ever gone before … someone said.

  2. PeterHug says:

    I really think they need to see Texas as the prototyping facility, and Florida as the place they actually launch these things. FAA and other agencies will pretty much ensure that.

  3. mcohen says:

    They are wasting their time.The whole thing must be taken up in sections on smaller rockets and assembled in space.This will save fuel and time.use the space station as a garage

  4. Fourth and Long says:

    Hitler’s birthday is officially irrelevant? I say this not only because of the famous anagram for Mr Musk’s name but for two other reasons: He has very grandiose ideas and Cosmic Rays (which present a will be a far bigger set of challenges to his plans than the other more visible ones).

    How come this issue wasn’t raised during the whole Dominion or more generally election scandals of 2020?

    The Universe is Hostile to Computers:
    Tiny particles from distant galaxies have caused plane accidents, election interference and game glitches.

  5. Lars says:

    Some of the reports I have seen puts the blame on poor decisions by Elon Musk. Maybe he should turn over the decision making to his engineers?

  6. ked says:

    SpaceX has devised a cheap launch vehicle, then cheapened the launch pad. Big mistake not water-cooling it, which has long been standard practice to protect launch pads of powerful rockets. They have expert engineers & analysts at SpaceX, but when the boss is always the smartest guy in the room – by his own assessment – they will forever be cleaning up after him.

    • LeaNder says:

      but when the boss is always the smartest guy in the room

      A Canadian representing the American Dream? … What type of American B males adore the A’s I asked myself on SST once upon a time?

      That said, in his recent babbling mode to the extent it caught my attention he seemed to be close to me a C, D, E … Not with the Twitter Files in mind here.

  7. Mark Logan says:

    Seems the issues with the launch pad were known three months ago, when limited engine tests were busting up the special concrete.


    But the schedule…we must keep the schedule! This kind of thinking caused the Challenger disaster. Have to know when the schedule can drive the project or when it has to be the other way around, I guess.

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