SpaceX $3 Billion Starship Investment: Elon Musk highlights overhauls & projects 60% chance of reaching orbit on 2nd launch attempt

SpaceX has invested approximately $3 billion in the development of Starship this year. This substantial investment reflects the company’s commitment to deploying its second-generation Starlink satellites and sending NASA astronauts back to the Lunar surface by 2025.

Currently, SpaceX is preparing for its second orbital launch of Starship. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, expressed optimism about the success of this upcoming launch during a Twitter Spaces session with reporter Ashlee Vance on June 24.

Musk stated that there is a 60% probability of the second flight reaching orbit, which is significantly higher than the first attempt. The increased confidence is a result of numerous changes and overhauls made to the spacecraft, with well over a thousand modifications implemented since the last flight test.

Musk believes that the chances of the next flight successfully reaching orbit are much higher than before, estimating the probability at around 60%.

During the first fully-integrated flight test on April 20, SpaceX had to trigger the Flight Termination System (FTS) because the Starship deviated from its intended course. This deviation was caused by a loss of communication with some of the Raptor engines. As a result, the Starship did not have the opportunity to separate from the rocket as planned.

For the second flight attempt, SpaceX’s main focus is achieving successful separation between the Starship and the Super Heavy booster. One significant modification they plan to implement involves adjusting the timing of the separation.

They will adopt a technique called “hot staging,” where the Starship’s engines ignite and warm up while the Super Heavy booster is still active. This approach, previously used by the Soviets and Russians in their rocket designs, allows the Starship engines to reach the optimal temperature before separation.

Elon Musk emphasized that the success of the stage separation is crucial for the overall success of the flight. During the Twitter Spaces chat, he explained the process, stating that most of the engines on the booster will be shut down, leaving only a few running.

At the same time, the engines on the Starship will be ignited. This simultaneous ignition results in a powerful blast from the booster, so protective measures are necessary to prevent damage to the top of the booster caused by the Starship’s engines.

By implementing these modifications and ensuring a successful stage separation, SpaceX aims to improve the outcome of the second flight attempt and increase the chances of reaching orbit.

Elon Musk revealed that SpaceX has made a significant late-breaking change to the stage separation process for the upcoming flight attempt. This change involves adopting hot staging, which offers a meaningful advantage in terms of payload-to-orbit capability.

Musk estimates a conservative improvement of around 10 percent if continuous thrusting is maintained throughout the separation process.

To enable hot staging, SpaceX has incorporated vents into the design. These vents serve the purpose of redirecting the super-hot plasma from the upper-stage engines to a safe location. Musk explained that an extension is being added to the booster, which consists mostly of vents.

This design modification allows the plume from the upper-stage engines to pass through the vented extension without causing any destructive effects. Musk acknowledged that this alteration carries the highest level of risk for the next flight.

By implementing this change and addressing the challenges associated with the upper-engine plume, SpaceX aims to optimize the stage separation process and maximize the payload-to-orbit advantage.

Elon Musk also shared details about the modifications being made to the launch tower at Boca Chica, Texas, in preparation for the next flight attempt. Approximately 1,000 cubic meters of steel-reinforced high-strength concrete is being added to the tower.

This concrete will be part of a “water-cooled steel-plate” system designed to prevent concrete shattering caused by the powerful thrust of the 33 Raptor engines during liftoff, as experienced in the first flight.

Musk explained that a steel sandwich structure is being implemented, consisting of two thick plates of steel welded together with channels. These channels allow water to be shot out in a manner similar to a large upside-down shower head.

The purpose of this water system is to counteract the enormous heat generated by the booster. Musk compared the booster to the world’s biggest cutting torch, producing both immense heat and force. The water will be blasted upwards while the rocket is still on the pad, helping to dissipate the heat.

These modifications aim to ensure that the base of the launch pad remains in much better condition compared to the previous attempt. Furthermore, engineers will program the Super Heavy rocket to operate at a higher throttle setting, allowing it to move away from the pad faster.

For further information and a more comprehensive discussion on these topics, you can listen to the full Twitter Spaces discussion in the Tweet linked below.

In preparation for the second attempt to orbit, engineers at Starbase are conducting pre-flight tests on the stainless-steel vehicles. On June 22, SpaceX performed an engine test using Starship SN25, which serves as the upper-stage prototype for the upcoming Starship test mission.

This test involved chilling and spinning the Raptor engine pumps in a manner similar to actual flight conditions. By doing so, vital systems were verified to ensure their proper functioning ahead of the upcoming static fire test.

The static fire test is a common pre-launch procedure where the engines are briefly ignited while the vehicle remains anchored to the ground. This test allows SpaceX to assess the performance of the engines before the actual launch.

If Starship SN25 and Super Heavy Booster 9 successfully pass all necessary testing requirements and receive regulatory approvals, SpaceX aims to launch the second flight attempt to orbit in the near future. The company is targeting a potential launch within the next 6 to 8 weeks.

SpaceX remains committed to advancing the Starship program, pushing the boundaries of space exploration, and paving the way for ambitious projects both within Earth’s orbit and beyond. The development and testing of the Starship vehicles represent significant progress in the company’s pursuit of space exploration and innovation.

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