This topic discusses the forthcoming SpaceX second flight test of the integrated Starship (#25) and Super Heavy booster (#9), currently scheduled for launch no earlier than 2023-11-17. The planned flight, if successful, will launch the craft on a near-orbital trajectory, with the first stage booster performing a boost back burn and soft water landing (braked by a landing burn) in the Gulf of Mexico, and the upper stage Starship accelerating to a velocity slightly less than orbital speed, causing it to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean an hour and 17 minutes after launch and, if it survives, splash down in the ocean around 100 km from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The upper stage will hit the water at its terminal velocity through the atmosphere—no flip and landing burn is planned.
Here is a SpaceX video of preparations for the flight test.
The SpaceX Upcoming Launch page for the mission will be updated with schedule information as the launch approaches. Here is a mission summary from that page.
(Click to enlarge image.)
This is the timeline for events in a full, successful flight.
||SpaceX Flight Director conducts poll and verifies GO for propellant load
||Booster LOX (liquid oxygen) load underway
||Booster fuel load (liquid methane) underway
||Ship fuel load (liquid methane) underway
||Ship LOX load underway
||Raptor begins engine chill on booster and ship
||Flame deflector activation
||Raptor ignition sequence begins
||Max Q (Moment of Peak Mechanical Stress on the Rocket)
||Booster Main Engine Cutoff
||Booster Boostback Burn Startup
||Booster Boostback Burn Shutdown
||Booster is Transonic
||Booster Landing Burn Startup
||Booster Landing Burn Shutdown
||Starship Engine Cutoff
||Starship is Transonic
||An exciting landing!
Background on the flight and updates on launch status are available at the Everyday Astronaut “Starship/SuperHeavy | Integrated Flight Test #2” page.
On 2023-11-09, the flight termination system (FTS) explosive packages were installed on the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage. These are the explosives installers carrying the packages from the explosives bunker to the launch site for installation.
To me, this summoned up a scene from Ghostbusters, but to Scott Manley it recalled something else.
Here is a video montage from NASASpaceflight of the installation of the flight termination system and related pre-launch work.
I’m very surprised it takes 4 backpacks worth of explosives to undo the thing! I would have thought 4 handfuls would have sufficed. I guess this implies the ship is more robust than I thought.
My guess would be that they’re using separate charges on the liquid oxygen and methane tanks on each of the two stages, which would add up to a total of four charges. On the first flight test, SpaceX says the flight termination system was activated at the 3 minute mark, but the ship was not destroyed until 40 seconds later, when it appears atmospheric forces in the thicker atmosphere broke it up as it fell. Improving the flight termination system was one of the FAA requirements for licensing the second launch.
From the venting from the booster after it went out of control, it looks like its flight termination system was installed in the inter-tank area of the booster. They may have gone to charges on the individual tanks to guarantee it wouldn’t be “just a flesh wound” if needed on this flight.
(Click image to view original FAA NOTAM.)
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has just (2023-11-15) issued their (take a deep breath) “Written Re-evaluation of the 2022 Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship /Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas” [PDF, 45 pages].
Deluge System Operation
The deluge system would be activated during each ignition event on the orbital launch pad, including engine ignition tests and launches. The 2022 PEA contemplates annual operations of up to five orbital launches and five suborbital launches per year. Each launch is associated with an estimated two static fire engine tests. The planned additional orbital launch mount, which is evaluated in the PEA, will also include a deluge system and containment. However, the design of this mount is not yet final. The construction of the additional orbital launch mount will not affect planned operational cadence. No deluge system is planned for the existing suborbital launch mount. Therefore, the deluge system may operate up to 30 times per year.
Expending “Hot Staging” Interstage Ring
SpaceX proposes to add an interstage to Super Heavy consisting of a forward heat shield. The forward heat shield provides thermal protection against heat produced by Starship engines start during the stage separation event. It is made of stainless steel and is approximately 30 feet in diameter and 6 feet long, weighing approximately 20,000 pounds. For some missions, the forward heat shield would be jettisoned between 30 and 400 kilometers offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX would not recover the forward heat shield as it is expected to sink.
Owls and Bats
Since the 2022 PEA and 2022 BCO, the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl was included in the final listing rule published on August 21, 2023 (DOI 2023). The tricolored bat was also not considered in the May 2022 BCO. The tricolored bat was proposed for listing on September 14, 2022 (USFWS 2022b). These two species are evaluated in this WR.
The footage of hot-staging and separation was freaking gorgeous.
SpaceX has concluded its Webcast. The liftoff and flight of the Super Heavy booster appeared to be completely normal, with no engines out during the ascent. The hot staging and separation of the Starship upper stage occurred on time and looked normal, and the booster began its flip maneuver as the Starship continued to accelerate. A few seconds later, the Super Heavy exploded—there is no indication so far whether this was spontaneous or triggered by the flight termination system. This did not affect the Starship’s ascent.
The Starship continued upward with all six engines running and reports of nominal trajectory. The ascent continued beyond the Kármán line at 100 km up to the 148 km intended altitude, then continued to accelerate horizontally. During the last portion of the burn, the tracking camera showed what appeared to be a plume of gas coming from the Starship. This continued for some time while the telemetry showed the ship continuing to accelerate. Then, telemetry showed engine cutoff, but before the planned time. After that, telemetry was lost, and some time after than, the SpaceX commentators said it appeared the flight termination system had destroyed the ship.
There appears, from first glance, no obvious damage to the launch site.
Everyday Astronaut will be running replays of the launch from different views on their Webcast for some time.
Who has a space laser and a grudge against Elon Musk?
Was the extreme asymmetric firing of the booster engines a normal part of the flip maneuver? I did not expect to see so many engines relight.
The display of engine operation after staging was curious. Look at the replay of the SpaceX coverage:
Staging starts at 41:30 in the video, T+2:38 in the flight. All of the booster engines shut down except the three inner steerable engines (look at the engine status at the bottom left). After hot staging and separation, the next outer ring of engines light, except for two which are symmetrically located. At the same time, one of the three centre engines shuts down. After that, more of the outer ring engines cut off. A few seconds later, another outer ring engine cuts off, then more and more, and finally they’re all out. I have no idea how much of this was planned, but it looks like there would have been seriously asymmetrical thrust during this period. After that, kaboom.