Image credit: SpaceX

The second test flight of the SpaceX Starship took to the air November 18, departing the Starbase/Boca Chica, Texas launch facility.

All 33 raptor engines of the mega-booster appeared to have operated fully and the hot-stage separation system between booster and 2nd stage worked. However, the first stage underwent a Rapid Unplanned Disassembly (RUD), exploding over the Gulf of Mexico.

Plowing skyward following stage separation, the Starship continued on its suborbital trajectory phase. However, ground control reported activation of the flight termination system and destruction of that stage some 10 minutes after takeoff.

Actual photo of stage separation via SpaceX tracking camera. Image credit: SpaceX

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

The plan had called for Starship to make a controlled reentry and ocean splashdown near Hawaii.

“The booster experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after stage separation while Starship’s engines fired for several minutes on its way to space,” SpaceX later reported. “With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary.

Image credit: SpaceX

Recursive improvement”

Overall, SpaceX saluted the flight today, one that reached several new milestones in contrast to the Starship maiden flight last April that ended in an explosive destruction.

This Integrated Flight Test 2 was projected to see the two-stage Starship launch vehicle depart its now water-cooled pad, then the  booster was to separate 170 seconds into flight and return to an ocean splashdown approximately 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the shore in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Starship second stage was to follow a suborbital trajectory and perform an unpowered splashdown roughly 62 miles (100 kilometers) off the northwest coast of Kauai (Hawaii).

The second flight test did successfully debut a hot-stage separation system and a new electronic Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system for Super Heavy Raptor engines.

In addition, reinforcements to the pad foundation and a water-cooled steel flame deflector, among other enhancements, appeared to function well, although a post-launch assessment will be necessary.

“Recursive improvement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, help humanity return to the Moon, and ultimately travel to Mars and beyond,” an earlier SpaceX posting noted.

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

FAA: “Mishap occurred”

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued this post launch statement, noting that this information is preliminary and subject to change:

“A mishap occurred during the SpaceX Starship OFT-2 launch from Boca Chica, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 18. The anomaly resulted in a loss of the vehicle. No injuries or public property damage have been reported.”

Furthermore, the FAA stated it “will oversee the SpaceX-led mishap investigation to ensure SpaceX complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements.”

As background, the FAA added in the statement:

“A mishap investigation is designed to further enhance public safety, determine the root cause of the event, and identify corrective actions to avoid it from happening again.”

“The FAA will be involved in every step of the mishap investigation process and must approve the final mishap report, including the corrective actions.”

“A return to flight of the Starship Super Heavy vehicle is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety.”

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Valuable learning experience

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) issued the following statement from AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher:

“Congratulations to the SpaceX team on today’s test flight of Starship from Starbase, Texas. It is exciting to witness a new launch vehicle achieving so many of its test objectives toward reaching orbit. The art and science of engineering requires testing and taking risks to understand the limits of systems and where designs should be improved. This test flight is a valuable learning experience, especially around the performance of its boosters. We look forward to seeing the team’s progress toward enhancing this new space launch capability and flying again.”

“With Starship, SpaceX is taking a step toward humans living and working off our planet. Flight tests, taking risks, and pushing new technologies that are still in development will lead to this future.”

“We are excited to see commercial space launch companies advancing technology in the cislunar ecosystem and pushing on to Mars. Expanding the boundaries leads to success.”

Go to launch replay at: https://www.spacex.com/launches/mission/?missionId=starship-flight-2

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