In less than twenty-four hours, SpaceX will attempt to launch Starship into space for the second time. The official launch window opens Saturday at 7:00 a.m. CST and lasts just twenty minutes – and no, that’s not a typo.
Here’s a brief overview of the series of events we’ll see tomorrow morning. About two hours before launch, SpaceX’s flight director will check for the green light for propellant loading. First, the Super Heavy booster will be loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid methane, then the upper stage (the upper stage is also called Starship).
About twenty minutes before liftoff, the Starship’s Raptor engines – 33 on the booster and six on the upper stage – will begin to cool before ignition. Ten seconds before launch, SpaceX will activate its flame deflector, a massive water deluge system located beneath the orbital launch rack. This system will flood the base of the rocket with water to absorb noise, deflect some of the vibrations and protect the launch infrastructure from the impressive power of the Raptor engines.
The ignition sequence will start at T-3 seconds. Then… in Musk’s words, “excitement guaranteed.”
Measuring nearly 400 feet tall, Starship is the largest rocket ever built. Much already depends on these tests: Starship is expected to take astronauts to the Moon in 2025 (in two years) and possibly a crew and cargo to Mars. The first orbital flight test in April ended prematurely when the rocket’s two stages failed to separate. SpaceX intentionally blew up the vehicle in flight over the Gulf of Mexico about four minutes after liftoff after it began falling uncontrollably toward Earth. Given the early test results, if SpaceX could go even a little further – achieve stage separation or progress even further into the launch – it would be a huge victory.
SpaceX has introduced a number of improvements this time around, including the water deluge system and a new way of performing stage separation called “hot stage”, where the Starship’s upper stage will ignite to push back the propeller. These improvements will also be put to the test.
The company’s ultimate goal for the flight test is to send the Starship’s upper stage on a journey almost halfway around the world and land it in the Pacific Ocean.