Next Launch:


United States of America
United States of America
Date: Thursday, April 20, 2023
Time: 1:33 PM UTC (UTC +0)

This goes

to space

Starship (Flight 1 and 2)

Starship is the reason Elon Musk founded SpaceX. It’s the vehicle that will enable the company to expand the human footprint throughout the solar system.

As SpaceX’s multipurpose spacecraft, Starship will be capable of launching substantial payloads to any destination in the solar system, allow humans to live and work on Mars, perform lunar exploration for NASA, and conduct intercontinental point-to-point transportation to destinations across Earth's surface.

Technical Specifications

Height: 50m / 164ft

Diameter: 9m / 30f

Thrust: 1500tf / 3.2 Mlbf

payload capacity: 100-150 t

SpaceX took a significant step in the development of its rapidly-reusable launch vehicle, Starship Super Heavy, by flying the beast to an altitude of 39km during its heart-stopping first fight. Did SpaceX fail to complete its larger objectives? Yes. Did they accelerate the program by testing systems and gathering flight data? Also, Yes.

The upcoming second integrated flight test of Starship Super Heavy will pursue the same goals but with Ship 25 and Booster 9.

So What Happened?

The rocket cleared the pad and climbed as it continued to lose multiple engines and subsystems essential for the ascent. As more and more engines failed, Starship Super Heavy deviated from its planned trajectory before being stopped by the flight termination system over the Gulf of Mexico. Just before the massive vehicle self-destructed for safety about 4 minutes into the flight, SpaceX’s livestream explained that Starship’s visible cartwheels in the sky instead of the planned booster separation, “does not appear to be a nominal situation.”

Despite the explosion, the outcome is a step in the right direction for SpaceX, proving many concepts and producing data about what didn’t go the way they planned. Given the complexity of the rocket, SpaceX had subliminal expectations. With over 3,600 tons of super chilled and densified liquid oxygen and liquid methane loaded on the rocket, one of the major objectives was to lift off and steer away from the launch pad.

“Just don't blow up the launchpad,” said Elon Musk during a Twitter space. At first, it seemed that hurdle might have been cleared but when the dust settled at Starbase, the aftermath was not ideal. And while assessments by the company and local officials still need to be completed, the damage to the launch facility seems significant. This has been SpaceX's modus operandi since they first stuck a shovel in the dirt road that is now Starbase: Build, test, destroy, then build it better. Before this test, SpaceX had only flown (and destroyed) Starship prototypes without its giant booster.

Since its unveiling in 2016 at the International Astronomical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Starship has undergone significant design changes, including transitioning from carbon fiber to stainless steel and abandoning landing legs in favor of using chopsticks on the launch pad to catch the booster and the ship.

Standing 120 meters (394 feet) tall, Starship Super Heavy is the largest and the most powerful launch system in the world, capable of launching substantial payloads to any destination in the solar system, allowing humans to live and work on Mars and conduct speedy intercontinental point-to-point transportation to destination across Earth’s surface. NASA needs Starship to bring humans down to the lunar surface during the Artemis III mission.

The highly anticipated first integrated launch of Starship and its Super Heavy booster had been looming ever since the successful 31-engine static fire of Booster 7 on February 9. Although the test was originally intended to fire all 33 engines, one engine was disabled pre-firing and another engine aborted just before ignition. Despite the monumental and high-risk nature of the test, SpaceX demonstrated the booster's technical readiness to successfully fire a large cluster of engines and proved that the launch pad can withstand 50% of the engines’ thrust. On Monday, April 17, the first launch window was unceremoniously scrubbed due to a frozen valve issue and turned into a wet dress rehearsal. Teams worked through the next couple of days to get ready for Elon’s wish: a 4/20 launch.

As the sun came up on the infamous weed holiday, the visibility was extremely poor, with a thick blanket of fog obscuring the rocket from view. Despite the less-than-ideal viewing conditions for onlookers near the launch site, it wasn’t affecting the launch commit criteria and SpaceX pressed on with the second attempt, keeping a close eye on pesky upper-level winds.

Just like the previous attempt, the countdown and the propellant load went smoothly.

The vents on the rocket periodically released oxygen and methane as they boiled off. At T- 40 seconds before the launch, the flight director called a hold due to slightly off-nominal flight pressures on the B7. A few seconds later, the countdown resumed for the historic flight.

Just 8 seconds before T-0, 30 out of 33 Raptors that power Super Heavy successfully ignited and the full stack lifted off and cleared the pad. It began its pitch maneuver towards the Gulf of Mexico. becoming the largest and most powerful rocket ever developed to take flight, surpassing NASA's Space Launch System launched last year. At around T+ 30 seconds, Booster 7 lost a Raptor engine, followed by one of its Hydraulic Power Units.

Starship continued to make its way to Max-Q, the point of maximum aerodynamic stress experienced by the rocket, losing more engines along the way. Down an HPU and over 8 Raptors, Starship continued along its planned trajectory, demonstrating a strong engine-out capability.

Engines continued to fail and the vehicle was unable to maintain the correct trajectory. As Starship reached the point of main-engine cut-off and stage separation, not only did the booster separation system fail, meaning the Starship was still attached to Superheavy, the whole stack started tumbling. More and more engines failed and many of them started burning the copper inside the engine, characterized by green flames.

A couple of tumbles later as the rocket moved out of the launch safety corridor, the flight termination system was activated on both the ship and the booster as the rocket underwent “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”. It blew itself up.

As SpaceX works towards a second test flight, it'll involve more than just implementing changes on the Starship Super Heavy system. The orbital launch site will require hefty repairs, including re-concreting the surface and refurbishing the launch tower, chopsticks, and tank farm.

While Starship did clear the launch pad, the facility suffered the wrath of 30 Raptor engines igniting at 90% thrust levels. Initially ramping up to 50%, the engines throttled up to the operational levels which shattered the concrete base of the orbital launch mount, according to SpaceX’s early analysis.

Despite using the Fondag concrete – specifically designed to withstand extreme forces and temperatures in the harshest environments – the high-energy engine plume blew away the concrete debris, exposing the hexagonal foundation of the launch mount. This flying debris inflicted damage upon the tank farm as well as the surrounding area, including the Starhopper.

A massive water-cooled steel plate is also in the works and will be installed under the launch mount to sustain the engine plume of the 33 Raptor engines. Elon clarified on Twitter it wasn’t ready in time for the first launch and based on the data from the static fire, teams didn’t expect this level of damage. “[The steel plate] Wasn’t ready in time & we wrongly thought, based on static fire data, that Fondag would make it through 1 launch.”

SpaceX will be working with the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government bodies to investigate the failure points. The FAA will green-light the second launch only if it approves the company’s investigation report and officially closes it.

Despite the fiery end to the test, Starship’s historical integrated flight test can hardly be considered a total failure as it provided SpaceX with loads of valuable data that will help direct their design decisions in the future. SpaceX employs an iterative development process for Starship that involves a continuous cycle of design, testing, and refinement, with new prototypes incorporating improvements over the previous iteration. That also means quite a few blown-up prototypes with more expected to meet the same fate in the future.

Starship Super Heavy Booster 7 and Ship 24 were outdated even before they were stacked and readied for this failed test launch as SpaceX had already introduced flight reliability upgrades for future vehicles. The forthcoming Booster 9 will be equipped with electric gimbals for the engines, eliminating the need for HPUs. The 33 outfitted Raptor engines are more reliable and are equipped with enhanced shielding, designed to isolate them from potential engine explosions in flight. With these upgrades, SpaceX aims to prevent the same failures that plagued this flight.

The integrated test flight provided teams with a lot of information about what works and what doesn’t on the Super Heavy booster, however, there’re still a lot of unknowns on the Starship itself, particularly the heat shield. It might take several test flights for SpaceX to achieve orbit and even more flights before they’re able to recover and refly the vehicle with confidence.

Starship has great expectations and even greater ambitions. It remains to be seen if SpaceX will be able to truly lower the cost of access to space and enable frequent crewed flights to the Moon and Mars. What’s clear from this test is that Starship requires a lot of work and it’ll be a substantial number of successful flights before SpaceX will be flying the first crews.

Copy by Mihir Tripathi

Photo credit: Erik Kuna for Supercluster

On this


Super Heavy

The Starship launch system consists of two stages: a Super Heavy booster and a Starship spacecraft.

The overall system (rocket booster and spacecraft) has undergone a few name changes over the years, including Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), and the Mars Colonial Transporter.

In November 2018, the system was formally named Starship, with the booster receiving the name Super Heavy.

When launched, the Super Heavy booster accelerates the spacecraft to Mach 8 or 9. The spacecraft then continues to orbit under its own power after the booster separates, while the booster returns to the launch site, and lands itself on the launch tower's arms.

The Super Heavy booster contains components such as four grid fins, a flight computer, vents, and batteries. The grid fins installed near the top of the booster control Super Heavy's descent and touchdown onto the future planned launch tower’s pair of mechanical arms.

Technical Specifications

Height: 71 m / 232 ft

Diameter: 9 m / 29.5 ft

Propellant Capacity: 3,400 t / 7.5 Mlb

Thrust: 7,590 tf / 16.7 Mlbf

Image: SpaceX

From this

launch site

Starbase - Boca Chica, Texas
April 20, 2023

Located on the US-Mexican border along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Boca Chica Village was chosen by SpaceX in 2014 for the company's privately-owned orbital launch site.

At first, Boca Chica was to host Falcon Heavy launches, but the plans soon changed to a more ambitious operation: Starship - SpaceX's multi-purpose transportation spacecraft.

Starbase became operational in 2019 with testing campaigns of the Raptor engines that power Starship.

The area was chosen for its remote location, with only four permanent residents and 12 seasonal residents directly impacted by the site's selection as a private spaceport.

SpaceX recently proposed buying Boca Chica and incorporating it as a new city - Starbase, Texas. Local officials have said they will work with SpaceX on that process.

As first reported by NASASpaceflight, SpaceX has also purchased two former oil rigs and is converting them for use as ocean launch and landing platforms for future Starship operations.

Image courtesy of SpaceX


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Starship Patch

Starship Super Heavy Patch

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Here's where to view Starship Super Heavy Flight Test

Viewing Sites
  • Isla Blanca Park

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