Space: Seven months after its explosion, SpaceX's 'Starship' rocket attempts a second test flight

Billionaire Elon Musk's company, SpaceX, is due to launch the largest and most powerful rocket, Starship, from the Boca Chica base in Texas on Saturday, November 18, after a first launch that ended in a gigantic explosion in the spring of 2023.

Onlookers watch SpaceX's "Starship" rocket set up at the Boca Chica launch pad in Texas, U.S., April 17, 2023 (illustrative image). REUTERS - GO NAKAMURA

By: RFI Follow


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If it succeeds, this Saturday, November 18, the second test flight of Starship, the gigantic rocket built by SpaceX, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, will be closely scrutinized by NASA, which is counting on this spacecraft for its missions back to the Moon. The 120-metre-high spacecraft is due to lift from the ground on Saturday at 7 a.m. local time (13 GMT), with a 20-minute launch window, from SpaceX's Boca Chica base in far south Texas, in the United States.

The rocket exploded after four minutes

On April 20, 2023, Starship lifted off for the first time in its full configuration. But several engines had failed, and SpaceX had purposely detonated the rocket after four minutes. The take-off had propelled a cloud of dust several kilometres from the launch pad, which was itself heavily damaged. Chunks of concrete had been catapulted by the power of the engines, and a fire had broken out in a nearby regional park. The U.S. aviation regulator (FAA) had opened an investigation, before finally giving the green light on Wednesday, November 15, for a second flight.

The rocket is composed of two stages: the Super Heavy propulsion stage and its 33 engines, and the Starship spacecraft, placed above it and which by extension gives its name to the entire rocket. During the first test, these two stages failed to separate in flight. The separation system has therefore been changed, Elon Musk said at a conference in early October, adding that testing this system would be "the riskiest part" of this second flight.

Development too slow?


I don't want to raise high hopes ", warned the SpaceX boss. The flight plan is the same as in April 2023: the spacecraft is to attempt to make an "almost complete circumnavigation of the Earth" and splash down in the Pacific, off the coast of Hawaii, the billionaire described. It will not technically reach Earth orbit, but will be "just below".

The development of Starship does not seem, however, to be fast enough to stick to the plans of NASA, the American space agency, which has contracted with SpaceX. A modified version of the spacecraft is to be used as a lunar lander to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. This mission, named Artemis 3, is officially scheduled for 2025, a date that seems increasingly unrealistic.

Read alsoNASA and SpaceX send a crew to the International Space Station

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