Space exploration should never be run of the mill nor something that finds itself on the back pages of the newspaper. Captain James T. Kirk was right that space really is the final frontier and making it more accessible is one of the driving forces behind SpaceX. Their mission to seek out new life and new civilisations, wait that’s wrong – that’s Starfleet. The SpaceX mission ‘to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets is at the forefront of the development of the enormous Starship which may make another launch attempt as soon as this Friday 17th November.
SpaceX is a company that shot to fame since it was founded (I really wanted to type ‘launched’ but resisted) back in 2002 by Elon Musk. Musk had a vision to revolutionise space exploration by reducing costs and more excitingly he wanted to colonise Mars. SpaceX operate the Falcon rockets, the Dragon capsule that is often transporting supplies to and from the International Space Station and skywatchers around the globe are familiar with the infamous Starlink project that has launched more than 5,000 small satellites into orbit providing global internet coverage. There is no doubt the SpaceX brand is a well known one.
One of the more recent additions to the SpaceX fleet is the super heavy lift launch vehicle known rather imaginatively as Super Heavy and, when coupled with Starship in its final configuration has the capability of lifting at least 150 tonnes into low earth orbit. It is the tallest and most powerful rocket ever to have flown at an immense 120m tall but the real headline statement for Starship is that it is designed to be fully re-usable with both stages being recovered after launch and used again. If you haven’t yet watched the Starship stages landing then you really should hunt them down, I never tire of watching it.
The plans for Super Heavy and Starship are not just to get objects into low earth orbit though, there are plans to use them to refuel other Starships in orbit, to be a part of the NASA Artemis program to get humans back to the Moon and ultimately the colonisation of Mars. The power behind Super Heavy are the powerful Raptor rocket engines that burn liquid methane and oxygen to get off the launchpad but fire again to slow down the booster during descent to a graceful landing, ready to be used again.
This all sounds pretty amazing but as we saw on 20 April this year, space flight is anything but routine. Four minutes after launch, at an altitude of 39km above the Gulf of Mexico, Musk’s beloved Starship failed to separate from the booster leading to the whole system exploding in a fireball on its maiden voyage. The FAA grounded the entire fleet but, it looks like we may be set for a fresh attempt this Friday 17th November subject to final approval from the FAA. If or when the launch finally goes ahead, it will be from a new reinforced launch site and will use a new separation technique known as Hot Staging where the second stage engines will fire to put the booster away! Good luck SpaceX.
Source : Twitter post from Space X