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Contingency Plans in Place as SpaceX Starship Damages Texas Launch Pad and Future Space Coast Launches Loom.


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

The most powerful rocket ever launched from Earth left a crater at the SpaceX launch site last week, but Elon Musk said teams could be ready to test launch another spacecraft in as little as one to two months.

Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to build a backup site for human launches on the Space Coast to allay NASA’s concerns about potential damage to the spaceship when it begins flying from the Kennedy Space Center.

Those launches won’t come until SpaceX completes testing from SpaceX’s Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, Texas where the first integrated launch of the Starship and Super Heavy booster took place last Thursday.

Although it never made it to space, the Raptor’s 33 engines capable of producing more than 17 million pounds of thrust were able to clear the launch tower. After only about four minutes of flying 24 miles and returning to Earth, SpaceX sent the self-destruct command which caused the rocket to explode over the Gulf of Mexico.

An update on SpaceX’s website reads: “The vehicle encountered multiple engines during a flight test, lost altitude, and began to bog down.” “The flight termination system was controlled on both the booster and the ship.”

While Musk has softened his expectations for the Starship mission to complete its goal of reaching space and flying 2/3 of the Earth on a suborbital flight path, the teams said clearing the launch pad was their first goal and part of a testing approach by the company that expects hardware failures through test launches. repeated.

While the failed engines and lack of a planned phase separation are major problems for the next launch attempt, significant damage from the launch site will first be needed to repair.

Musk posted on Twitter photos comparing the construction of the launch site to the post-launch damage: “All that’s left of the concrete side support beam is rebar! Hopefully this doesn’t affect the launch base.”

Musk said the company had prepared “a huge water-cooled steel plate to go under the launch pad,” but it wasn’t ready in time for the test launch.

He said “we wrongly thought” the concrete launch pad would survive the launch based on data from a static fire conducted in February that saw 31 of 33 engines pass a burn test.

“It’s still early in the analysis, but the force of the engines at throttling may have broken the concrete, rather than simply eroding it,” he wrote on Twitter. “The engines were only at half thrust for the steady fire test.”

Video from around the launch site showed chunks of concrete flying all over the place including several in waves a quarter of a mile away. One of the pieces hit an unoccupied NASASpaceflight.com pickup truck that was parked near the stage for a video that triggered “RIP NSF Van” tweets.

Michael Baylor, who is part of the website’s livestream team, wrote, “The two cameras we put on the roof of the van took a beating and were removed. Obviously this was all at our own risk which is well understood.”

Pictures of the missile rising into the sky showed that only 27 of the 33 engines lit up one minute after liftoff, and more failed before the mission was over. It is unclear if any were damaged by debris on takeoff.

“With testing like this, success comes from what we’ve learned, and we’ve learned a tremendous amount about today’s ground vehicles and systems that will help us improve Starship’s future voyages,” the company posted on its website.

The Starship was nearly twice as powerful as NASA’s Space Launch System, which still holds the record at 8.8 million pounds of thrust for a rocket that actually reached space during its launch from Kennedy Space Center last November on the Artemis I Moon mission. Damage caused by the SLS to the Mobile Launcher at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-B has continued months of repair work as teams prepare for Artemis II in 2024.

The Starship’s sheer force for what is planned for a future launch from KSC at SpaceX’s Launch Pad 39-A worried NASA last year with uncertainty about what kind of damage might happen to the pad. SpaceX continues to build the Starship launch tower at 39-A when the spacecraft is ready for operational flights.

Problem is, even though we don’t have Boeing’s Starliner as a backup yet, NASA relies on SpaceX with its Crew Dragon spacecraft as its only transportation of astronauts in the United States to the International Space Station. These launches can currently only take place from A-39, and the potential threat of spacecraft launch pad damage has prompted SpaceX to work on upgrading the nearby launch site at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 so it can fly the Dragon spacecraft. also.

“SpaceX and the NASA team have done an amazing job determining the crew and cargo capacity of Pad 40,” Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said in February. “SpaceX has begun the groundbreaking on that slab, and actually the initial work of clearing the site and then pouring the props for the crew tower.”

Sarah Walker, SpaceX’s director of Dragon mission management, said she expects the site to be ready this fall for initial launches with only cargo.

“We believe it allows greater flexibility for our Dragon customers,” she said. “Our primary focus will first be to launch cargo missions and just let them interchange between the two platforms, 39 and 40. And then we’ll add the final certification elements of human spaceflight capability shortly after, but we’re seeing good progress.”

NASA has a vested interest in advancing the spacecraft as well, though it will rely on a version of it to serve as a human landing system for the Artemis III mission as early as 2025, which aims to return humans including the first woman to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17. 1972.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated the SpaceX team last Thursday on Twitter despite the mission ending in a fireball.

He wrote, “Every great achievement throughout history requires some level of calculated risk, for with great risk comes great reward.” “We look forward to all that SpaceX has learned, to the next flight test – and beyond.”

2023 Orlando Sentinel.

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the quote: SpaceX Starship hits launch pad in Texas; Future Space Coast Launches Rapid Contingency Plans (2023, April 25) Retrieved April 25, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-spacex-starship-clobbered-texas-pad.html

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