Science & Technology Tech


The new technique for separating the two stages of the Starship, the video

The second launch attempt of the spacecraft featured many technical innovations that were successful despite the fact that the two parts of the rocket exploded


Valerio Orsolini

Starship's launch wasn't a complete failure: here's why

SpaceX has achieved partial success in its attempt to launch Starship, the most powerful spacecraft ever built by mankind, because it has achieved at least some of the milestones it set for itself in this mission. On the previous mission on April 20, the rocket destroyed the launch pad during takeoff, some of the 33 engines did not ignite and was finally detonated because the separation of the two stages had failed properly.

Some of these issues were fixed in the November 18 launch. Modifications to the launch platform were successful, with high-pressure water being injected into the base of the missile, and some concrete parts being replaced with steel parts. The engines all started correctly, ensuring the right thrust to overtake Max Q. In astronautics, Max Q, or point of maximum dynamic pressure, is the moment when a spacecraft is subjected to maximum dynamic pressure and maximum aerodynamic structural load.

The separation of the two stages, which we see in this video, was carried out correctly: in the launch of last April 20 this was a critical moment and one of the reasons that then made us opt for the voluntary destruction of the rocket in flight. In this case, a technology called "Hot staging" was used. In the previous system, the engines of the upper nacelle were fired only after the two stages had been detached. With "Hot staging" the engines start up before they are disconnected. This technology had never been tested by Space X, while it has already been used by other launchers such as the Russian Soyuz.

The Starship spacecraft, after turning on its 6 engines, continued its run reaching an altitude of about 200km, therefore the "space" altitude, while the previous attempt on April 20 had stopped just above 39km in height.

The launch took place from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, and the Starship was initially propelled into space by the 33 Raptor engines. However, about 15 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX reported that it had lost signal from Starship, which subsequently exploded. The mission called for the spacecraft to dive off Hawaii about an hour and a half after liftoff, covering about five-sixths of Earth's orbit, and for the "Super-Heavy" launcher, the lower part of the rocket, to simulate a return to land before getting lost in the ocean.

This whole process is part of SpaceX's operations, which does not aim for success on the first try, but precisely to carry out multiple tests and attempts to progressively correct the problems that these tests highlight flight by flight. In this sense, the launch was a success and it is likely that we will see a new attempt in early 2024. In fact, other examples of Starship spacecraft and Super-Heavy launchers are already ready at the SpaceX base, already (almost) ready for launch.