Musk’s Starship, the second test flight is finally here!
After a brief pause, the countdown resumed. Amid the cheers of the crowd, the booster equipped with 33 Raptor engines took the spacecraft into the sky. It made a huge roar when ignited, the flame was bright, and the trajectory as it rose was straight and magnificent.
When the time came to about 2 minutes and 50 seconds, the first and second levels were successfully separated, but then the first level exploded into a fireball and failed to splash down on the sea as planned.
▲ Primary and secondary separation.
▲ First-level explosion.
After the second stage continued flying for a period of time, SpaceX stated that it could not receive data from the second stage, and the live broadcast was stopped. Soon the second stage also self-destructed over the bay.
During the first flight on April 20, Musk said that the success rate was 50%, and he was thankful that the launch pad was not even blown up.
Seven months later, Musk is more confident and believes that the probability of the second flight successfully entering orbit is about 60%, but he still advises not to have too high expectations. Completing "stage separation" is also a victory.
Reaching the finish line is a success, but completing phased goals is also worthy of celebration. This test flight fully achieved Musk's vision. Musk also expressed on X (formerly Twitter) "Congratulations to the SpaceX team!"
SpaceX summarized the launch after the live broadcast:
Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on completing the exciting second Starship comprehensive flight test! The starship successfully lifted off and completed stage separation under the power of all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster.
The booster underwent a rapid, unscheduled disassembly shortly after stage separation, while the spacecraft's engines fired for several minutes on its way to space.
Success comes from what we learn through testing like this, and today's test will help us improve Starship's reliability as SpaceX works to bring life to multiple planets.
On the Gulf Coast, cheers erupted again from the launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, echoing through screens around the world. As Musk wrote in X today:
LETS GO! Huge for humanity. Let's go! Great for humanity.
Standing on the shoulders of the first flight, but it is also a big adventure
The starship has passed its life and death line.
Why do you say that? The starship mainly consists of two parts:
- The "Starship Spacecraft" equipped with 6 Raptor engines on the top, the second stage of the rocket system;
- The "Super Heavy Booster" equipped with 33 Raptor engines at the bottom is the first stage of the rocket system.
The most tense moment of the second flight was the 2 minutes and 41 seconds after liftoff, when the first and second levels of classification were carried out as planned.
▲ Second flight timeline.
During the first flight, the starship had already experienced a stage separation failure. According to the plan at the time, the booster was shut down around 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and then the first and second stages were separated. However, the rocket continued to roll and failed to separate by the third minute.
Different from the first flight, this time SpaceX redesigned the primary and secondary separation systems and tried "thermal separation" for the first time. The engine was started when the spacecraft had not separated from the booster, rather than igniting after separation.
Because it has never been tested in actual combat, Musk called it the "most dangerous part" of the second flight, which may cause the booster to explode. This is why vents and heat shields were added between the two stages of the starship to expel superheated exhaust gases.
▲ The heat shield added on the second flight.
The risk is worth it, and if this level is overcome, then there is a good chance that the starship will enter orbit. Musk said thermal separation creates a small but significant thrust that can increase payload by about 10 percent.
In the breathless anticipation of the host and the audience, the thermal separation of the second flight was successful, which was the first good news today. However, the first and second flight failed to splash down and fly as planned.
In addition to stage separation, the second flight had more than 1,000 improvements, large and small, compared to the first flight.
First is the booster. The failure of the first flight was foreshadowed from the beginning. Three of the booster's engines failed to ignite, two engines failed en route, and one engine was intermittently working.
▲ Several engines malfunctioned during the first flight.
SpaceX later explained that during the ascent, a fuel leak in the booster caused a fire, which cut off the connection with the main flight computer. Most of the booster engines lost communication, causing the equipment to lose control.
So before the second flight, SpaceX added more protection to the booster's components, including an expanded fire-extinguishing system.
The second good news today is that all the engines on the second flight ignited normally.
▲ The engine performed stably on the second flight.
In addition, in order to make the engine more reliable, SpaceX also designed a new electronic thrust vector control system for the booster engine, which uses an all-electric motor with fewer potential failure points and is more energy-efficient than a traditional hydraulic system.
Second is the self-destruct system. During the first flight, the starship rolled uncontrollably for a while before exploding. It was said that the self-destruction system "AFSS" of the starship failed to function in time. This time, SpaceX also improved the AFSS to prepare for the unexpected need of "a strong man breaking his wrist".
Then there is the launch pad. During its first flight, the Starship blasted a huge crater on the launch pad, scattering concrete and other debris over an area of about 1.56 million square meters. It also caused a fire in a state park, angering local environmental groups.
▲The launch pad after the first flight.
The problem lies in the lack of a flame deflector, which is usually built under the launch pad and directs the flame hundreds of meters away.
▲ The water cooling system added to the second flight.
So before the second flight, SpaceX reinforced the launch pad with concrete and added a water-cooling system to the launch pad. It was vividly called a "giant inverted shower head" by Musk, which sprayed water upward to offset the large amount of water generated by the booster. heat.
It can be seen from the difference between the first flight and the second flight that starship test flight is a process of "incremental innovation".
Are engines more reliable? Can thermal separation be achieved? Can the launch pad not blow up a big crater? It would be great if you could run to the finish line in one breath, but before starting again, SpaceX tried to correct the wrong questions and answered them pretty well.
The most powerful rocket in human history, the long journey between the stars and the sea
Starship, which has attracted worldwide attention, is the next-generation fully reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle that SpaceX has bet on. It is very radical in design concept and exudes Musk’s own technological arc.
Starship is the largest and most powerful launch vehicle in human history, with a height of about 120 meters. Its current thrust is about twice that of NASA's Saturn V rocket. The latter sent Apollo program astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s, and is considered one of the most successful rockets in human history.
At the same time, Starship is also the first rocket designed to be fully reusable in order to reduce the cost of entering space and ultimately realize the commercialization of space flight. Musk believes that this is a key technological breakthrough needed to achieve Mars immigration.
How to recycle is a key if you want it to be reusable. However, the second flight did not plan to recover the rocket body at the launch site, and both the first and second stages splashed into the sea.
We can still only see in the simulation screen how the "chopsticks" of the launch tower smoothly capture the booster falling from the sky.
▲ Simulated footage of recovery from the launch site.
The first flight and the second flight are mainly to prove the starship's ability to fly into orbit and measure its performance and reliability. The plan for the second flight is basically the same as the first flight and does not require a complete orbital flight.
According to the original plan for the second flight, the first and second stages of the starship were thermally separated about 2 minutes and 41 seconds after liftoff. About seven minutes after liftoff, the booster fell into the Gulf of Mexico.
The spacecraft then continued upward and eastward, reaching a top speed near orbital speed, nearly circling the Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, a journey that lasted about 90 minutes.
After the orbital test flight is successful, SpaceX can begin testing more complex starship missions, including on-orbit refueling, launching Starlink satellites, etc., to prepare for more distant and complex deep space missions.
▲ On-orbit refueling is required during the journey to Mars.
In 2021, SpaceX defeated competitors such as Blue Origin and won a multi-billion-dollar contract for NASA's "Artemis" mission, responsible for building a manned lunar module based on a starship. Human life is at stake, so we must be cautious. Recently, NASA stated that the Starship manned lunar module mission will require nearly 20 launches.
▲ Concept map of the SpaceX Starship manned lunar module.
Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to build Starship into a next-generation, fully reusable Starship.
In other words, starships can be reused cheaply, safely and quickly to transport people and cargo to Earth orbit, help humans return to the moon, and eventually travel to Mars and beyond.
The difficulties and dangers of repeated trials and iterations may be difficult to explain to outsiders, and there is no such thing as "all the results are achieved in one battle".
Practice brings true knowledge and explodes the future
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. Innovation, high-profile, fast, sustainable… Musk's own entrepreneurial style deeply affects SpaceX's values.
Practice brings true knowledge and explodes the future. This is the innovative approach that SpaceX is proud of:
Rapid iterative development is the foundation for all of SpaceX's major innovations and advancements, including Falcon, Crew Dragon and Starlink.
▲ Falcon Heavy rocket launches.
As we all know, SpaceX is accustomed to repeated defeats and defeats. It is not afraid to expose problems and technical loopholes to the outside world, and has blown up many "big fireworks" with real weapons.
From December 2020 to May 2021, the prototype of the Starship second stage conducted a series of suborbital high-altitude test flights, with 5 shots and 4 bombs.
▲ Starship SN8 landed too fast and exploded.
It wasn't until Starship SN15 landed smoothly after "Dragon Swinging its Tail". Although a small flame ignited, it was quickly extinguished, and the Starship Level 2 prototype successfully achieved a soft landing.
During the first flight into orbit on April 20 this year, the "complete body" of the first and second stages of the starship was installed and finally took off from the orbital-level launch pad. It caused a round of cheers and achieved the "small goal" of not blowing up the launch pad. However, It disintegrated and exploded 4 minutes after liftoff.
▲ The starship rose into the sky over southern Texas during its first flight.
It must be said that Musk has a big heart:
If you watch our launch videos every time, you will see that we have blown up several prototypes.
In addition to the "loss of troops" caused by explosions, SpaceX also often overturned previous rocket designs, and countless prototypes were directly abandoned and demolished.
At the same time, SpaceX attaches great importance to cost control, using stainless steel as the main structural material and adopting a mass production model. Even the second starship cannot enter orbit, and more spacecraft are on standby.
▲ They can all be starships.
SpaceX maintains that real-world incidents are the fastest and most efficient way to collect data. Design, blow up, and upgrade prototypes quickly, better than simulations and ground testing. NASA, by contrast, prefers slow, methodical testing.
The second flight completely verified SpaceX’s theory.
The end seems to be there, but no one knows when it will be crossed. The exploration before the dust settles is often neither a complete success nor a complete failure. It is most likely to be somewhere in between, but it is a little closer to the goal.
Although the road ahead is still difficult, it may be on the right path.
Humanity's dream of traveling among the stars will never stop.
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