SpaceX plans to make its second integrated flight of Starship, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built in history. The launch is scheduled for 10 am (Brasília time) this Saturday (18), at the base of Elon Musk’s company in Boca Chica, Texas.
Initially, the test was scheduled for this Friday (17), but ended up being postponed. The reason was the need to change a grid vane actuator.
Grid fins are aerodynamic controls used to adjust and stabilize rockets in their descent phase so that they can land in an upright position. Actuators, in turn, are the machine parts used to transmit movement.
The first attempt, in April this year, ended with the vehicle being blown up. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted an investigation and recommended that 63 fixes be made before a new launch.
The recommendations were followed, including the redesign of the vehicle’s hardware to prevent leaks and fires and also the launch platform to increase its robustness.
There was also the installation of a water “flood” system with sprayers that are released after the engines are started. With this, the expectation is that acoustic waves will be attenuated and vibrations will be limited.
Company representatives said that the rocket has been ready to fly for months and only depended on the approval of an FAA license, which occurred last Wednesday (15).
Given the agency’s green light, the rocket is expected this time to complete its mission of making almost an entire circle around the Earth, in a flight of around 90 minutes, and then re-entering the atmosphere, making a high-speed dive into the atmosphere. sea, near Hawaii.
Two stages form the vehicle: a propeller, called Super Heavy, measuring 71 m, and the ship itself, called Starship, measuring 50 m. Starship is also the name of the rocket as a whole.
In the first test, the two stages did not separate. This failure led to the modification of the separation system and, according to Musk, testing it is the riskiest part of this second launch.
With the capacity to transport between 100 and 150 tons – something like carrying a Boeing 747 with a full cargo area –, the vehicle should change the rules of the game in space exploration. This would make building a base on the Moon a simpler process.
According to SpaceX, its vehicle will be able to transport up to one hundred people on interplanetary trips and be used both to send satellites and telescopes. Another possibility, says the company, will be flights within the Earth.
The rocket’s first stage, the Super Heavy, has 33 propulsion engines — the largest number ever used in a rocket — powered by liquid methane and oxygen. The choice for these fuels was due to the ease of producing them from water and carbon dioxide, two resources available on Mars, a destination to be reached by the spacecraft in the coming years. At least that is Elon Musk’s intention.
The vehicle generates 7,600 tons of thrust at launch, more than double the Saturn V rockets used in the 1960s and 1970s by NASA’s space program for the Apollo lunar missions.
The second stage has three engines for propulsion in space, to reach orbital speed, and another three for maneuvers in the atmosphere. Both parts were designed and built to be completely reusable.
Other technologically ambitious predictions from SpaceX are that the Super Heavy booster will not only return to the launch site, but also float above the ground while two arms on the launch tower capture it in the air. The same maneuver would be used for Starship’s upper stage when it returns from orbit.
Musk said there is “a reasonable chance” of capturing a booster within the next year and possibly a Starship from orbit before the end of next year.
The Starship program was born as an independent initiative from SpaceX, and with another name: Interplanetary Transport System. This is the system with which Musk hopes to one day promote the colonization of Mars.
For this to happen, the cost of each launch needs to fall drastically, which is only possible if the vehicles are cheap, reusable, do not require major maintenance between flights, can be refueled in space and are capable of using fuel easily produced on the red planet.
Starship is contracted to land the Artemis 3 and 4 missions (at a cost of US$4.05 billion), which means that there will be no astronauts walking on the Moon anytime soon if the SpaceX project fails.
NASA’s plan is for a version of Starship to take two astronauts to land in the south polar region of the Moon during Artemis 3, which is scheduled for the end of 2025. But members of the American agency have already indicated that this date will probably be postponed for 2026 at least.