SpaceX Plans Second Starship Test Flight Despite Post-Launch Damage and Environmental Concerns
SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has announced that the company will likely launch another orbital test flight of its Starship vehicle in six to eight weeks, following the successful maiden launch of the fully integrated Starship and Super Heavy rocket in April. Despite the post-launch damage to the launch pad, Musk has stated that he believes a new vehicle could be ready to fly within that timeframe, though SpaceX has declined to comment on the matter. The test flight sought to send the Starship on a near loop of Earth, with SpaceX officials stating that clearing the launchpad would be a success. Starship is built to take humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond, with the aim of revolutionising spaceflight itself and landing NASA astronauts on the Moon as early as 2025.
However, the April launch resulted in a fiery cataclysm that destroyed the Starship and rocket in a shroud of burning methane and billowing oxygen. Despite this, Musk has said that the outcome was roughly what he expected, and SpaceX will spend $2 billion on Starship this year alone. Its long-term dream is for Starship to travel to Mars. SpaceX is also building a costly satellite internet service called Starlink, which, combined with Starship, is likely to keep the company in the red for a while.
SpaceX’s launch business is believed to be profitable but must be balanced with investments in Starlink and Starship. The company is valued at close to $140 billion, making it one of the biggest private companies in the country, and investors have been lining up to plough money into its bold vision and big projects. However, Starship’s launch has caused concern over the environmental impact of launches from Boca Chica, with several environmental groups filing a lawsuit against the FAA, claiming that the agency broke the law when it allowed SpaceX to expand operations at its Starbase site in southern Texas without undergoing a complete environmental review.
Despite the technical snafus, many aerospace experts considered the flight a success for the data it delivered to SpaceX engineers pursuing the company’s “iterative design” process to rapidly improve subsequent hardware. However, as the smoke dissipated and the consequences of the launch emerged, the implications for both Starship and SpaceX's launch site in southern Texas became less clear. The massive vehicle's future sorties are likely to be delayed at the very least, due to unexpected site damage and a new lawsuit related to the permitting process that allowed it to happen.
The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded SpaceX until the cause of the failure is investigated, with no set date for when operations will resume. The FAA commented that an investigation like this could take “a matter of weeks” or “might take several months.” With this news, the time frame for the Artemis III mission is in question due to SpaceX’s inability to launch or test any further Starships.
0. “SpaceX Faces Reckoning after Starship’s Messy First Flight” Scientific American, 4 May. 2023, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/spacex-faces-reckoning-after-starships-messy-first-flight/
1. “It's No Surprise SpaceX Blows Up Rockets in Texas. That's Why It Came Here.” Texas Monthly, 3 May. 2023, https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/spacex-rockets-boca-chica-damage-lawsuit/
2. “SpaceX should be ready to launch Starship again in 6 to 8 weeks, Elon Musk says” Space.com, 2 May. 2023, https://www.space.com/spacex-ready-launch-starship-six-eight-weeks-musk
3. “What's next for SpaceX's (very expensive) Starship program?” WVTF, 4 May. 2023, https://www.wvtf.org/2023-05-04/whats-next-for-spacexs-very-expensive-starship-program
4. “Will investors pay for SpaceX's giant Starship rocket?” NPR, 5 May. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/05/05/1174014027/spacex-wants-starship-worlds-biggest-rocket-fly-moon-mars-but-will-investors
5. “Starship after the dust settles” The Space Review, 2 May. 2023, https://www.thespacereview.com/article/4574/1
6. “SpaceX Starship Explodes Mid-Test Flight – Exponent” Exponent, 3 May. 2023, https://uwpexponent.com/news/2023/05/03/spacex-starship-explodes-mid-test-flight/