One of the most expected space events of 2023 will take place today. SpaceX will carry out the second orbital test of the Starship spacecraft.
Starship is the largest launch vehicle in history. It consists of a Super Heavy stage (booster) and a spacecraft of the same name. Both components are reusable. The mass of Starship and Super Heavy in the fueled state is about 5000 tons, the height is 121 m.
The Super Heavy stage (its length is 71 m) is equipped with 33 Raptor engines using methane as fuel and liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. The Starship spacecraft (its length is 50 m) is equipped with six Raptor engines. In the reusable version, it will be able to deliver 100–150 tons of cargo to low Earth orbit.
Live broadcast of the Starship launch
Initially, the launch of Starship was scheduled for November 17. But the company had to move it because of the need to replace the drive of the grid fins. They are installed on Super Heavy and are used to control the booster after it enters the atmosphere.
A new attempt to launch Starship will take place on November 18. The 20-minute window for the spacecraft’s flight will open at 03:00 p.m. UTC time. The event will be broadcast live on YouTube.
The second flight of the Starship will take place according to the scheme of the first test. It looks the following way. Super Heavy and the prototype Starship will be launched from the SpaceX test site near the Texas village of Boca Chica. After separation, the booster is supposed to perform a partial return manoeuvre and land in the Gulf of Mexico.
As for the Starship prototype, it will develop sufficient speed to enter low Earth orbit, and will make an incomplete orbit around the Earth. In the area of the Hawaiian Islands, the spacecraft will activate its engines and enter the atmosphere, after which it will be splashed into the ocean about 100 km from the northwest coast of the island of Kauai.
During the upcoming test, SpaceX has no plans to rescue either Super Heavy or Starship. Even if the prototype of the spacecraft survives re-entry into the atmosphere, it will still collapse during the landing.
Both SpaceX and various aerospace experts give very cautious forecasts about the prospects for the upcoming test. Given the complexity of the Starship design, as well as many changes after the first flight, the probability of an accident is estimated to be quite large. We would soon find out how justified these concerns were.
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