SpaceX is preparing for the second test flight of Starship, the giant rocket being built to carry NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon and Elon Musk’s ambitions to Mars. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday granted regulatory approval for the launch.
While the company had planned a launch on Friday, Musk announced Thursday on X, the social networking site formerly known as Twitter that he also owns, that SpaceX was moving the flight to saturday because it was necessary to replace a part of the rocket.
Here’s what you need to know about the launch.
When is the release and how can I watch it?
Starship launches from Boca Chica, Texas, a site on the Gulf of Mexico coast near the city of Brownsville that SpaceX has dubbed Starbase.
The flight could take off as early as 8 a.m. Eastern Time. Saturday. SpaceX will broadcast the launch live on X.
There is a 20-minute window during which SpaceX could launch. Test missions often take off later in a launch window as flight managers work to ensure systems operate as designed.
If the flight is completely successful, Starship will complete a partial trip around Earth before falling into the Pacific Ocean off the island of Kauai.
What is starship?
For NASA, Starship is a future lunar lander for astronauts on the Artemis missions. But for Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, the vehicle is critical to his vision of transporting colonists to the red planet. That means Starship has to be big.
Stacked on top of what SpaceX calls a super-heavy booster, the Starship rocket system will be, in virtually every way, the largest and most powerful ever created.
It is the tallest rocket ever built: 394 feet tall, or nearly 90 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, including the pedestal.
It is designed to be completely reusable. The Super Heavy booster will land much like those on SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets, and Starship will be able to return from space by circling through the atmosphere like a parachutist before turning to an upright position for landing.
What went wrong during Starship’s first flight?
First was the huge brown cloud that spread from beneath the rocket as its engines ignited. It contained dirt, rocks and even rock-sized chunks of concrete that the force of the rocket’s thrust excavated beneath the launch pedestal.
And then, as Starship rose into the air, it tilted to the side. Three of the booster’s 33 engines had failed to start and the unbalanced thrust caused the inclined climb.
Starship left the launch tower and for much of the next minute, the flight appeared to be going well. But there were signs that something else was wrong. Cameras pointed at the bottom of the Starship appeared to show that six of the engines had failed. The booster was supposed to separate from the upper stage at 2 minutes and 52 seconds into the flight, but it never did. Instead, Starship began to slowly spin, and a minute later, explosives meant to destroy a rocket that had veered off course from it finally exploded.
A week later, Musk offered preliminary answers about what had gone wrong during a question-and-answer session on Twitter, now called X.
“Some good news here,” he said. “The structural margins of the vehicle appear to be better than we expected,” the flight moments point out. “The vehicle is actually doing somersaults toward the end and is still intact,” he said.
What has SpaceX changed for this Starship flight?
At first glance, the Starship rocket on Friday’s launch pad looks like the same giant vehicle that launched in April. It is not.
The biggest change is something called “hot shooting.” Starship’s upper stage engines will ignite while the booster is still attached and some of the booster motors are still on, potentially improving the rocket’s performance.
SpaceX also made changes to the rocket design to prevent fuel leaks and fires, and made improvements to the flight termination system that took too long to destroy the Starship.
For the launch pad, to prevent the rocket motors from destroying the concrete below and sending up another cloud of debris and dust, SpaceX has added a structure consisting of two plates with holes in the top plate. “Basically, a huge, super-tough steel shower head pointing up,” Musk said.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water sprayed upward from this system will act as a cushion absorbing the heat and force of the rocket motors, protecting the steel and concrete.