The second integrated test flight of the biggest space rocket that mankind ever built, SpaceX’s Starship, was a huge success. It roared to the sky in mid-November from Boca Chica in Texas, cleared the launch tower without any hiccups (unlike during the first flight), went through the process of hot-staging – separating from the Super Heavy first stage, and crossed the Kármán line to reach the space for a very first time.
However, despite the overall success and excitement, the rocket hit a few bumps during the flight. Shortly after the stage separation, the Super Heavy booster disintegrated on the way back. And the same happened with Starship itself eight minutes into the flight.
Much was speculated on social media about the cause and the role of the flight termination system, which is supposed to tear the rocket apart in case things don’t go as planned. Now, two months later, Elon Musk has finally revealed what happened in a SpaceX company update presentation at Starbase.
Long story short, the world’s heaviest rocket was too light:
“Flight 2 actually almost made it to orbit. In fact, ironically, if it had a payload it would have made it to orbit. Because the reason that it actually didn’t quite make it to orbit was we vented the oxygen, and liquid oxygen ultimately led to fire and an explosion.
Because we wanted to vent the liquid oxygen because we normally wouldn’t have that liquid oxygen if we had payload. So, ironically, if it had a payload it would have reached orbit.”
You can watch the full SpaceX company update in the video below:
In 2023, SpaceX completed 96 successful missions, safely flew 12 more astronauts to orbit, launched two flight tests of Starship, and more than doubled the number of people around the world connected by @Starlink.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 12, 2024
What we still don’t know is the exact cause that led Super Heavy to fail during the boostback burn.
Anyway, Musk is still completely okay with destroying a few more rockets if it means that Starship will be operational much faster. “It is always better to sacrifice hardware than sacrifice time. Like, time is the one true currency,” said the CEO of SpaceX.
The new key milestones for the third integrated test flight include executing the in-space engine burn from a header tank and safely deorbiting the spacecraft. SpaceX also wants to do the first tests for the propellant transfer technology and test its payload door and mechanism for deploying its Starlink satellites. The flight is currently planned for February, pending the launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).