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Mon, Nov 20, 2023

SpaceX Shows Substantial Progress With Second Starship Test Flight

Launchpad Intact! 33 Raptor Engines Roaring! Hot Staging! and More

The long-awaited and bureaucratically delayed second flight of the SpaceX Starship finally took place early Saturday.... just a minute or two past the projected liftoff of 0700ET. 

The monstrous vehicle did not destroy the pad and surrounding facilities this time around, SpaceX having learned well from the the first go-around as all 33 Raptors lit off and continued producing propulsion until stage separation... one of the critical tests of this launch. This time around, the gang at SpaceX was trying to preserve as much launch momentum as possible (that could conceivably contribute to as much as a 10% increase in eventual payloads) by 'Hot Staging' -- a procedure whereby the second stage kicks in even as the first stage is still loosely attached following Main Engine Cutoff. SpaceX admitted to the possibility of damaging the first stage in this procedure but knew the only way that they could perfect the procedure was through a 'field test.' 

The first stage started its 'boostback' return procedures following a clean separation but something went awry, and the Flight Termination System detonated, destroying the vehicle for reasons yet unknown... but likely to be a lively source of discussion in the coming days.

The main Starship vehicle continued a consistent burn for nearly all of the expected boost to an orbitally-sufficient velocity that should have brought it to a point where it would have executed part of the quasi-orbital reentry sequence with a splashdown near Hawaii. That was not to be, since an as yet unknown issue actuated its own Flight Termination System at 150km and the vehicle's telemetry went silent near what was expected to be SECO. 

Musk promised progress with this launch, but also noted that they did not expect to meet all of their many objectives... though they do seem well pleased with how far their development process has taken them. 

SpaceX instructed, "While it didn’t happen in a lab or on a test stand, it was absolutely a test. What we did today will provide invaluable data to continue rapidly developing Starship."

These are just some of the points lost on much of the aerospace-ignorant, if not hostile, general media that focused on the FTS actuations and the corresponding breakups, without understanding how incredibly powerful the successes in this launch truly are. 

An eventual third launch of an upgraded Starship system should bring them even closer to building the machine that they hope to take to Mars... 




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