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Starship: 7 pieces of information to understand everything about the (almost) successful takeoff of SpaceX

© Elon Musk/Twitter

«A sham failure.»< /i> This is how Olivier Lascar, editor-in-chief of Sciences et Avenir, summarized the launch of the Starship on Franceinfo. For the second time, the company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, attempted to send its Starship spacecraft into space.

After a first failed mission on April 20, failed after three minutes of flight during the attempt to separate the Starship from the first stage, SpaceX tried the experiment again. This November 18 flight was to be the confirmation flight.

SpaceX announced that it had resolved several problems, notably regarding the reliability of its engines and the procedure for separating the two stages of the rocket. The latter had to fly for more than three minutes before being cut in two, the vessel continued alone on its way towards Hawaii, the initial destination of the mission.

Say 33

To successfully lift the 5,070 tonnes of the Starship into flight, SpaceX uses 33 engines of its own manufacture, Raptors. During the flight on April 20, only 31 engines managed to operate correctly, leading to a difficult takeoff, heavily damaging the launch pad.

In this new attempt on November 18, the 33 engines functioned correctly. The launch pad, revised in its design, did not suffer heavy damage. The first seconds of the mission are therefore a resounding success for Starship.

2min48s : separation

The first phase of the mission consists of an ascent at crazy speeds of the rocket. Still made up of its two stages, Starship is subject to strong aerodynamic constraints. The rocket's carcass must be extremely strong to withstand this pressure.

As during the flight on April 20, the structure holds up and the rocket continues its journey. After 2 minutes and 48 seconds of flight, it is now 75 kilometers above the ground, flying at over 5,000 km/h. This is the right time to separate the two parts of the ship.

The separation, however, does not go perfectly well. Starship takes time to extract itself from its booster and it damages the latter. It was initially planned for the booster to turn around and return to the ground, but too damaged by the separation, it was unable to fall and a few seconds after the separation, it was destroyed by SpaceX teams.

8min5s : Error 404

The rest of the flight takes place “nominally” assures SpaceX. The ship follows its flight plan to the letter and the data received at the control center is all consistent. While traveling at more than 24,000 km/h (you have to reach 28,000 km/h to be in orbit), the ship suddenly loses its radio links.

SpaceX teams will later learn that the ship has automatically activated its self-destruct system. Although the reason for this triggering is still unknown, the first data collected shows an excess of abnormal oxygen consumption in the last seconds. The vessel would therefore have suffered a propulsion problem, at an altitude of more than 148 kilometers.

Missed target

The rocket will therefore never have reached the Hawaiian Islands, the destination of the mission. Instead, the remains of the rocket were recovered by SpaceX teams as well as the US military not far from the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. The final objective is therefore missed, once again for SpaceX.

After this second “encouraging” flight, the company hopes to be able to understand a little better the points that remain to be worked on to make its rocket reliable as quickly as possible. Time is running out for Elon Musk's company, which must deliver an approved version of the Starship to NASA before 2025.

Failure, the best way to 8217;learn

Despite this new apparent failure, the Starship mission was a technical success. Although the entire flight did not go as planned, the company managed to go further than during its inaugural mission on April 20.

SpaceX knows this , there is still a long way to go before successfully placing its ship in orbit, but at the company's pace of work, nothing seems impossible. A few months after a first flight of less than three minutes, the firm managed to return to the air, a feat in the small world of space.

Never 2 without 3

However, it won't be long before SpaceX. A third mission is imperative to pass the NASA qualification phases. However, this demonstration is still a long way off, no one knows in particular how the Starship will resist air friction during its return to the atmosphere.

This last stage, the most perilous, will be closely followed by the SpaceX and NASA teams during the year 2024. At the same time, the American space agency continues to advance its pawns with its return program lunar and the Artemis 2 mission, planned for next spring.

2025, the impossible goal

During the flight of Artemis 3, still scheduled for the end of 2025, SpaceX will have to support NASA on its road to the Moon. The Starship must in fact serve as a moon landing module for American astronauts. They will therefore land on the Moon aboard this ship, before leaving our satellite in this same device.

The return to the atmosphere will always be aboard the Starship, it It is therefore crucial for SpaceX to successfully carry out an empty demonstration by then, because NASA will never take the risk of putting its astronauts in a module that has never been tested in real conditions.

If SpaceX is used to manned returns to the atmosphere (with its Crew Dragon module which goes back and forth between Earth and the ISS), a trip from the Moon requires much greater capabilities. The entry speed of the Starship will have nothing to do with that of Crew Dragon and the mission should be carried out perfectly to avoid drama.

A titanic challenge for SpaceX and NASA which should not, again according to Olivier Lascar, be on time for an Artemis 3 mission in 2025. The flight could be postponed to 2026, or even 2027 in certain development simulations.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116