Aerospace & Defence

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship launch a success despite early termination!

20th April 2023
Harry Fowle

The long-awaited and much-anticipated launch of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship has finally taken place, with the rocket successfully launching and reaching its maximum dynamic pressure condition (max q), before eventually terminating.

The launch, despite its termination, marks a significant milestone in the innovation of space exploration and puts SpaceX one step closer to fulfilling its vision of making humanity a multi-planetary species. The success of Starship’s maiden launch is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of the SpaceX team, with the rocket being a culmination of all their prior work and experience.

The launch

The Starship, a 50m tall spacecraft designed for crew and cargo missions which sits atop the massive 70m tall Super Heavy Rocket, was launched successfully from the SpaceX spaceport, Starbase, in Boca Chica, Texas, at 2:33pm UK time (BST), 20th April 2023.

Despite the initial launch being postponed due to technical faults, the rocket’s eventual termination, and Musk’s early concerns, in which he stated, “It’s a very risky flight. It’s the first launch of a very complicated, gigantic rocket,” and that, “there’s a million ways this rocket could fail,” the launch was an overwhelming success for its first flight.

The termination occurred following the Starship’s failure to complete the first separation stage, something the engineers have called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”. Alongside this fault, at least five of the 33 raptor engines failed early on.

Despite the termination, the launch can be seen as a huge step for the team at SpaceX, with a successful initial launch phase and the rocket reaching max q. The rocket’s ability to reach max q is an integral step to the rocket’s success, with this phase being the one that puts the rocket under the most duress. This demonstrates what the team are capable of and provides them with a plethora of crucial mission data to work from, failure is a key part of the development process.

The ‘Starship’ of the future

SpaceX’s Starship is a next-generation spacecraft that is being developed by Elon Musk’s privately owned spaceflight company, SpaceX. It is intended to eventually replace all of SpaceX’s existing spacecraft, including the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft, and become the company’s primary vehicle for both crewed and uncrewed missions to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and potentially even further out.

The Starship is a fully reusable spacecraft designed to be launched on top of SpaceX’s Super Heavy Rocket, which saw recent test success and is also reusable, to provide it with the necessary thrust to get it into orbit and beyond. The immense rocket is capable of massive payloads, going beyond the previous record-holder, NASA’s Saturn V rocket, with a maximum payload of 150,000kg. To compare this to current operational rockets, NASA’s current rocket of choice, the SLS has a maximum payload that clocks out at 95,000kg, just two-thirds the size. Now in operation, it takes the title of the largest spacecraft ever built.

The Starship is designed to be highly versatile and adaptable, with the ability to perform a wide range of missions. This includes carrying cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station (ISS), launching satellites, performing scientific research, and eventually carrying humans to the Moon and Mars. It is also being designed with the end goal of making a human settlement on other planets a reality, being the rocket of choice for creating a self-sustaining civilisation on our planetary neighbour, Mars.

What’s the future of SpaceX’s Starship?

With a massive step taken in the development of SpaceX’s Starship, many are left wondering what’s next for the company and its continual ambition plans, and how might we see Starship being utilised in the future once it is fully operational?

First up on the list is its planned use to launch the second generation of satellites which are part of SpaceX’s Starlink, which delivers high-speed internet and connectivity globally. The Starlink project will utilise the reusability factor of Starship and the Super Heavy Rocket to cut costs and boost profits.

There are also plans in motion for the first lunar tourism mission, called the dearMoon project, which will make use of the crewed configuration of Starship. Conceived and financed by Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa, the project will take Maezawa along with eight artists and one or two crew members on a circumlunar trajectory around the Moon and return them to Earth over the space of six days.

SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy Rocket will also soon be utilised as a key part of NASA’s Artemis programme which aims to return humans to the Moon once again. The company was recently awarded a contract by NASA to develop a lunar lander variant of Starship that will carry astronauts to the surface of the moon, dubbed the Starship HLS (Starship Human Landing System).

Finally, Starship is planned to be used as the spacecraft that will take humans to another planet for the first time, and eventually establish a colony on the red planet. By making use of the incredible cost-saving and payload capabilities, as well as the ability to refuel in space, it is hoped that in the near future, this once-distant objective will become a realistic target.

Slider image credit: Flickr (Starship Test Flight Mission | Official SpaceX Photos | Flickr)

Article image credit: Flickr (Starship Test Flight Mission | Official SpaceX Photos | Flickr)

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