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SpaceX Achieves New Milestones With Second Starship Flight

Mihir Tripathy
November 21, 202310:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)

Following months of repairs, hardware testing, and a lengthy regulatory process, Starship Super Heavy took to the skies for the second time from Starbase. 


All 33 Raptor engines were successfully ignited and reached full thrust, lifting the largest launch system ever built. In contrast to its previous flight, the Raptor engines onboard the Super Heavy booster functioned as expected. This, combined with quicker thrust throttling to minimize contact with the pad, enabled Starship to lift off smoothly and pitch away from the launch site.

With thrust exceeding twice that of the Saturn V and surpassing NASA's Space Launch System, Starship Super Heavy followed its planned trajectory into space. After passing the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure, the vehicle achieved supersonic speed for the first time.

The previous test flight experienced multiple engine shutdowns before stage separation, but the lessons learned from that flight resulted in a flawless ascent profile. SpaceX addressed all the issues encountered during the first flight, and this launch marked the maiden test flight of several new technologies.

As Starship Super Heavy approached the stage separation point, all but the central three booster engines shut down in a staggered sequence at MECO (Most Engines Cut Off). While the Super Heavy booster continued to provide thrust, though significantly reduced, the six Raptor engines on Starship ignited, facilitating its separation from Super Heavy. Engine plasma exited from the booster’s skirt, in an additional ring specifically designed for this stage separation system — known as hot staging. This was the first time hot staging was performed and tested in-flight on an American rocket since the Titan fleet.

Rarely used by American launch vehicles, hot staging is common in Soviet-era Russian rockets like Soyuz since it simplifies the stage separation system, and enables more mass to orbit. SpaceX estimates that hot staging will increase Starship’s maximum payload to orbit by 10%.

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Heat shields and skirtings on the booster helped protect it from Starship's fiery plume. Multiple-raptor engines on Super Heavy reignited as it steered away from Starship and began its boost-back burn. However it was shortly terminated by the Autonomous Flight Termination system. The cause for this is still unknown, but it’s highly probable that all the required engines might not have reignited properly and the booster significantly deviated from its planned trajectory, leading to its automatic termination at an altitude of 90 kilometers (56 miles) over the Gulf of Mexico.

Starship continued its burn toward orbit.

As it passed the Kármán line (100km) the vehicle became the most powerful rocket to ever make it to space. 

Just short of the second stage cut-off, Starship lost all communications from the ground and experienced a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (big explosion).

Starship achieved a maximum altitude of ~150 kilometers (93.2 miles), and avelocity of ~24,000 kilometers per hour (~15,000 miles per hour), its highest ever. This second integrated flight test successfully demonstrated the highly dynamic stage separation system, booster boost-back burn, and all the mitigations that were in place after the first flight. 

Post-launch, inspections of the pad revealed that work done to strengthen it, including the water-cooled steel plate, worked as expected and requires little to no refurbishment for the next launch.

Quick View: Starship Prototype


50m / 164ft


9m / 29.5ft

Propellant Capacity

1,200t / 2.6Mlb


1,500tf / 3.3Mlbf

Payload Capacity



Despite being a success in terms of an iterative development program, Starship Super Heavy did in fact explode, thereby falling short of its official objectives and immediately triggering an FAA anomaly review.


Just like the previous launch, SpaceX will work in tandem with the FAA to lead an investigation to seek the cause of failure and implement corrective actions before being cleared for the next flight test. With minimal to no damage to public property and the surrounding environment, it won’t require any supplemental or new environmental review, and the approval process should be faster than before, pending how soon SpaceX can figure out what went wrong.

Elon expects to achieve technical readiness for the next flight within 3 to 4 weeks. The actual launch will probably take place in the first quarter of next year, pending regulatory approval. With every flight test, SpaceX moves closer to achieving the goals they set out for the Starship development program, which includes supporting NASA’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the Moon, and ultimately, on Mars.


Mihir Tripathy
November 21, 202310:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)