both stages of Starship megarocket explode during second test flight

Launch of SpaceX's Starship rocket in Boca Chica, Texas (United States), Saturday November 18.

SpaceX experienced another failure on Saturday, November 18, during the second takeoff of the Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. This second test flight was closely scrutinized by NASA, which is counting on this spacecraft for its return missions to the Moon.

The giant 120 meter high rocket took off shortly after 7 a.m. (2 p.m. in Paris) from the SpaceX base in Boca Chica, in the far south of Texas, in the United States. Both stages of SpaceX’s mive Starship rocket exploded shortly after their successful separation, Elon Musk’s company announced in the live video stream of the rocket’s second test launch. The Super Heavy propulsion stage and its thirty-three engines, and the Starship spacecraft, placed above and which gives its name to the entire rocket, experienced a “unplanned rapid disembly” according to the company’s terms.

Starship’s first test flight was completed in the spring in a gigantic explosion before the separation of the two floors. On April 20, Starship took off for the first time in its full configuration. But several engines did not work, and SpaceX intentionally blew up the rocket after four minutes.

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The takeoff had propelled a cloud of dust several kilometers from the launch pad, itself heavily damaged. Chunks of concrete were catapulted under the power of the engines, and a fire broke out in a nearby regional park. The American air regulator (FAA) opened an investigation, before finally giving approval on Wednesday for a second flight.

Separation, the “riskiest” stage

In seven months, the launch pad was rebuilt, and a system of “deluge” water has been installed and tested. These downpours of water, discharged when the engines are started, must attenuate the acoustic waves, limiting vibrations. However, ociations are separately suing the FAA, accused of having incorrectly essed the environmental impact of the new rocket. “We fear that this second launch will once again create significant environmental damage”Jared Margolis, lawyer for the NGO Center for Biological Diversity, told AFP.

The rocket is made up of two stages: the Super Heavy propulsion stage and its thirty-three engines, and the Starship spacecraft, placed above 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 was therefore changed, explained Elon Musk during a conference at the beginning of October, adding that the test of this system would be “the riskiest part” of the second flight. “I don’t want to raise too high hopes”had warned the boss of SpaceX.

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Floors designed to be reusable

For the company, the explosion of prototypes is less of an image problem than it would be for NASA and its public funds, experts say. Chaining together tests using a rapid iteration process allows it to accelerate the development of its machines.

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But the development of Starship does not seem to be fast enough to match the plans of the American space agency, which has signed a contract with SpaceX. A modified version of the machine must serve as a lunar lander to place astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. This mission, named Artemis-3, is officially planned for 2025, a date which seems increasingly unrealistic.

Beyond the Moon, Elon Musk wants to make Starship “a widespread means of transportation to any destination in the solar system”, notably Mars. Its goal is the establishment of an autonomous colony on the red planet, in order to make humanity a multiplanetary species.

If the size of Starship is ” absurd “he explains, it is because building a “permanent base on the Moon and a city on Mars” requires carrying millions of tons of payload. But the real innovation of Starship is that it must be entirely reusable, with the two stages being designed to eventually return to their launch pad – thus reducing costs. Only the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket is currently recovered.

Starship is both larger than NASA’s new megarocket, SLS (98 meters), which took flight for the first time a year ago, and the legendary Saturn-V, the rocket of the Apollo lunar program (111 meters).

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The World with AFP

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