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Fri, Apr 21, 2023

Starship Inaugural Launch < Perfect

Optimistic Musk Suggests Follow-Up Launch in Months

The 33 Raptor engines of SpaceX’s Super Heavy first-stage booster fired as one, filling the Boca Chica morning with the din and fiery fury of cryogenic liquid methane and oxygen combusting under 790 atmospheres (11,603-pounds-per-square-inch).

For several impossibly long seconds, the great rocket, stacked stage-upon-stage to its imposing 230-foot height, remained motionless atop 17,100,000-pound-force of thrust—the equivalent of 75 Boeing 777-300ERs at full take-off power.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the immense vessel commenced ascending, straining against Earth’s gravity and Newton’s life’s work to impel its 11-million-pound bulk spaceward.

A cheer went up from the launch-controllers assembled within SpaceX’s Starbase facility as Starship cleared the launch-pad tower, rising with increasing speed and certainty, persevering against incomprehensible forces with the preternatural stoicism peculiar to machines.

Gathering speed in earnest despite the failure of five of its first-stage Raptor engines, Starship rocketed past 16,000-feet, accelerating rapidly through 368-knots.

At approximately one-minute eight-seconds after lift-off, intermittent plumes of flame were observed within Starship’s otherwise stable thrust column. One-minute twenty-seconds into the flight, at an altitude of FL300 and a speed of 460-knots, Starship passed successfully through Max Q (maximum dynamic pressure), that point in a space-vehicle’s ascent at which its structure is subjected to maximum mechanical stress.

Two-minutes after liftoff, as Starship neared first-stage separation, a pronounced jet of flame erupted from the spacecraft’s thrust column. Fifty-seconds later, Starship’s directional thrusters fired as the vehicle was observed in an end-over-end flip—which looked like a planned maneuver by which the vehicle’s first-stage separation is preceded... but not so much.

Three-minutes four-seconds after lift-off, the Starbase control room fell silent as Starship continued flipping, through 360°, 720°, 1,080°, directional thrusters firing intermittently in a losing battle against inertia and misfortune.

Three-minutes fifty-seconds into Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, commentators conceded “This does not appear to be a nominal situation.” Nine-seconds later, the great rocket—small and fragile-looking at an altitude of 95,144-feet and a velocity of 1,149-knots—exploded in an adiabatic cataclysm of rapidly-depressurizing cryogenic fuels. Starship’s passage from cohesive existence took the form of a billowing, snow-white eruption of condensing atmospheric water-vapor punctuated by two discrete flashes of golden flame. Five-seconds after Starship’s disintegration, streamers of debris bloomed from the primary burst, descending Earthward along random trajectories—a final and decisive instantiation of nature’s proclivity for entropy.

In the uncertain moments following the mishap, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, in a meritorious act of leadership, congratulated his launch team, stating: "Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months."

SpaceX subsequently tweeted: "With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary. Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first integrated flight test of Starship!"

Laudably optimistic in the aftermath of a less-than-perfect mission, SpaceX described the explosion thus: "Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation."

SpaceX’s Starship is a remarkable machine, a 390-foot-tall behemoth with a payload capacity of 330,000-pounds to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in its fully reusable configuration, and 550,000-pounds to LEO if fully expended.

Starship is a composite vehicle consisting of an expendable, for now, Super Heavy booster, first stage and a reusable, Starship, second stage. The 230-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide Super Heavy booster section is powered by 33 of SpaceX’s proprietary Raptor engines arranged in concentric rings. At full-power, the stage’s complement of Raptor and Raptor Vacuum engines produces a staggering 17,100,000-pound-force of thrust. The mighty Saturn V rocket by which NASA’s Apollo missions landed men on Earth’s moon produced a comparatively anemic 7.5-million.

The Starship second stage is 160-feet-tall, 30-feet in diameter, and fitted with three Raptor atmospheric and three additional Raptor Vacuum engines. The section’s 56-foot-tall by 26-foot diameter payload bay boasts an internal volume of 35,000-cubic-feet—slightly larger than the entirety of the International Space Station's pressurized volume. The Starship second stage functions as a self-contained spacecraft within which crew and cargo will journey into space.

Stacked and fueled, Starship’s first and second stages mass approximately 11,000,000-pounds.

Proposed applications of SpaceX’s Starship include supporting construction of the Starlink internet constellation, performing suborbital point-to-point flights, and conveying space-travelers to the surfaces of the Earth’s moon and Mars.



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