SpaceX Mission 'Presumed Failed' Minutes After Launch

Starship reached space this time, but contact was then lost
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2023 10:35 AM CST
Updated Nov 18, 2023 7:45 AM CST
Will 2nd Time Be the Charm for SpaceX Rocket Launch?
Onlookers watch as SpaceX's Starship prepares for a launch in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
UPDATE Nov 18, 2023 7:45 AM CST

SpaceX's Starship, the world's most powerful rocket, saw liftoff from Texas on Saturday around 8am ET, and the New York Times notes that its upper stage did successfully separate from its Super Heavy booster—further than it got during its initial launch in April, which ended in an explosion. Things went south after that, however, with SpaceX losing contact with the spacecraft after it reached an altitude of about 90 miles, less than 10 minutes into the flight, per the AP. Reuters notes that the mission is "presumed failed." "We think we may have lost the second stage," SpaceX livestream broadcaster John Insprucker announced, adding that the team believes the rocket experienced an automatic detonation. Insprucker noted that Starship was designed to destroy itself if it veered off course, per the Washington Post.

Nov 17, 2023 10:35 AM CST

The world's most powerful rocket didn't have a successful launch the first time around. Now, seven months after that April fail, SpaceX's Starship is set to try again. CNN reports that Friday's launch of the nearly 400-foot-tall spacecraft—made up of the upper Starship rocket and the lower Super Heavy booster—is being postponed until Saturday to replace a small part, a fact confirmed by an X post from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX's website notes there will be a 20-minute launch window Saturday morning, starting at 8am ET.

Musk explained in another X post that the launch had been delayed so that mechanics could replace what's called a grid fin actuator. CNN notes that grid fins are "metal, mesh squares that line the top of Starship's Super Heavy rocket booster" and are used to help orient that booster as it tries landing upon completion of its mission. The New York Times reports that the rocket has also undergone some changes since the failed April launch, especially regarding a process called "hot staging." That method, the paper explains, involves "Starship's upper-stage engines [igniting] while the booster is still attached and some of the booster engines are still firing."

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It's hoped that by doing so, the rocket will see improved performance. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the second launch on Wednesday, after hedging following the last mishap. Environmental groups had sued after the April launch, which they said destroyed the concrete launch pad and sent up a cloud of debris and dust. SpaceX says it has since remedied that issue. A livestream will detail the launch out of Boca Chica, Texas. If all goes well, the entire mission will take about 90 minutes before Starship plunges into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Much more here and here on the launch and its implications, for SpaceX, NASA, and space exploration. (More SpaceX stories.)

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