SpaceX is preparing for the second test flight of Starship, the giant rocket being built to carry NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon and Elon Musk’s ambitions to Mars. The Federal Aviation Administration granted regulatory approval for the launch on Wednesday.
While the company had planned a Friday launch, Mr. Musk announced Thursday on X, the social networking site formerly known as Twitter that he also owns, that SpaceX was move the flight to Saturday because a part of the rocket needed to be replaced.
Here’s what you need to know about the launch.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
The spacecraft launches from Boca Chica, Texas, a site on the Gulf Coast near the town of Brownsville that SpaceX has dubbed Starbase.
The flight could take off as early as 8 a.m. Eastern Time on SATURDAY. SpaceX will broadcast the launch live on X.
There is a 20-minute window during which SpaceX could launch. Test missions often start later in a launch window as flight managers work to ensure systems perform as expected.
If the flight is fully successful, Starship will complete a partial journey around Earth before crashing into the Pacific Ocean off the island of Kauai.
What is Starship?
For NASA, Starship is a future lunar lander for Artemis mission astronauts. But for Mr. Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, the vehicle is at the heart of his vision: transporting colonists to the Red Planet. This means Starship must be big.
Stacked on top of what SpaceX calls a Super Heavy booster, the Starship rocket system will, by almost every measure, be the largest and most powerful ever designed.
It is the tallest rocket ever built: 394 feet tall, almost 90 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, including the pedestal.
It is designed to be completely reusable. The Super Heavy booster is expected to land much like those on SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets, and Starship will be able to return from space through the atmosphere like a parachutist before pivoting to a vertical position for landing.
What went wrong on Starship’s first flight?
First there was the enormous brown cloud that spread under the rocket when its engines started. It contained dirt, rocks, and even boulder-sized chunks of concrete that the rocket’s thrust force had excavated beneath the launch pad.
And then, as Starship rose into the air, it tilted sideways. Three of the thruster’s 33 engines had failed to start and the unbalanced thrust had caused an inclined ascent.
Starship cleared the launch tower, then for much of the next minute the flight appeared to be going well. But there were signs that other things were going wrong. Cameras pointed at the bottom of the Starship appeared to show that six of the engines were failing. The booster was expected to separate from the upper stage after 2 minutes and 52 seconds of flight, but this never happened. Instead, Starship began to slowly tumble, and a minute later, explosives intended to destroy a rocket that had veered off course finally detonated.
A week later, Mr. Musk offered preliminary answers about what went wrong during a Twitter question-and-answer session, now dubbed X.
“Some good news here,” he said. “The structural margins of the vehicle appear better than we expected,” highlighting the moments of the flight. “The vehicle actually somersaults towards the end and stays intact,” he said.
What did SpaceX change for this Starship flight?
At first glance, the Starship rocket on Friday’s launch pad looks like the same giant vehicle launched in April. It’s not.
The biggest change is what’s called “hot staging.” The Starship’s upper stage engines will ignite while the booster is still attached and some of the booster engines are still operating, potentially improving the rocket’s performance.
SpaceX also made changes to the rocket’s design to prevent fuel leaks and fires, and improved the flight termination system that took too long to destroy the spacecraft.
For the launch pad, to prevent the rocket engines from destroying the concrete below and sending up another cloud of debris and dust, SpaceX added a structure made of two plates with holes in the top plate. “Basically a massive, super-strong steel shower head pointing upwards,” Mr. Musk said.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water sprayed upward from this system will act as a cushion absorbing the heat and force of the rocket engines, protecting the steel and concrete.