On Saturday, November 18, SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful launch vehicle in the world, will have its second test flight.
During a 20-minute launch window starting at 8:00 a.m. ET, SpaceX’s Starship will take off from its launch pad in South Texas. Around 40 seconds into the flight, Starship’s two stages will separate; the first will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico, while the second stage will continue toward Earth orbit. Around 90 minutes after liftoff, it will plunge into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
That’s the plan, at least, but testing rockets and spaceships doesn’t usually go to plan.
Here’s what to know ahead of SpaceX’s big launch.
What is Starship?
Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built, by pretty much any metric. It stands 397 feet tall and consists of two stages, both of which are fully reusable (but in this case, they will be expended). The upper stage is called Starship, while the lower stage is a powerful booster called Super Heavy. The massive rocket has 33 engines, some of which did not fire properly on the first launch attempt.
How did the first test flight go?
Starship’s first flight occurred on April 20, and it underwent “rapid scheduled disassembly” about four minutes into the launch. In other words, SpaceX intentionally detonated the launch vehicle over the Gulf of Mexico after the Super Heavy booster failed to separate from the first stage, and the entire apparatus began tumbling out of control. But this wasn’t a failure; getting the rocket off the ground at all on the first try was considered a success.
What’s different this time?
The first Starship launch was a success by many metrics, but it was unexpectedly destructive. Severe damage to the launch pad sent concrete, dust, and debris flying over a 385-acre area. Concrete from the launch was discovered 6.5 miles from the launch site, and environmental experts were outspoken about the damage to the surrounding area. SpaceX has added metal plates to the launch pad to hopefully limit both damage to the launchpad and environmental impact.
What’s the ultimate goal?
This launch isn’t just about SpaceX; part of NASA’s Artemis mission to return humans to the lunar surface depends on Starship’s success. NASA awarded the HLS, or the Human Landing System contract to SpaceX, and Starship is an integral part of it, meant to ferry the astronauts from orbit to the moon’s surface and back. NASA has stated that it hopes the first moon landing will occur as soon as 2025, but that’s contingent on Starship being successful, which is why all eyes are on this test flight.
How do I watch the launch?
If you’re interested in tuning in, SpaceX will begin broadcasting from its South Texas launch location thirty minutes before launch, at 7:30 a.m. ET on the company’s website or at their YouTube channel.