- Elon Musk expects SpaceX to spend about $2 billion developing the Starship rocket this year, as the company presses to build on its first launch earlier this month.
- “I expect the next flight to reach orbit,” Musk said on Saturday.
- The Starship flight exited the launchpad and achieved several milestones, but Musk provided more details about a variety of problems the rocket had suffered.
A SpaceX Starship lifts off from the launch pad during a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20, 2023.
Patrick T Fallon | Afp | Getty Images
Elon Musk expects SpaceX to spend about $2 billion developing the Starship rocket this year, as the company presses to build on its first launch earlier this month.
“My expectation for the next flight is to reach orbit,” Musk said during a discussion on Twitter Spaces on Saturday.
While SpaceX conducts secondary rounds about twice a year, to give employees and other company shareholders an opportunity to sell stock, Musk said the company “doesn’t foresee the need for increased funding” to further the Starship program and its other projects.
“As far as I know, we don’t need to raise additional funding for SpaceX,” Musk said.
For the dramatic first launch of a fully stacked Starship rocket on April 20th,” SpaceX CEO said, “the result was roughly what I expected, and perhaps slightly exceeded my expectations.” “
SpaceX has several other prototypes in various stages of assembly and aims to launch the next attempt to reach space using the towering rocket in a few months.
“The point of these missions is just information. For example, we don’t have any payload or anything — it’s just to learn as much as possible,” Musk said.
He put the probability of reaching orbit with a spacecraft flight this year at “probably” 80%, but embraced that he thought there was “a 100% chance of reaching orbit within 12 months.”
Starship was first launched on its Super Heavy booster from Texas on April 20, 2023.
The Starship flight exited the launchpad and achieved several milestones, but Musk provided more details about a variety of problems the rocket had suffered.
The rocket took off with only 30 of the 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster base igniting. SpaceX “elected not to run” three engines, Musk said, because they weren’t “healthy enough to make them fully operational. The spacecraft slid sideways from the launch pad while rising into the sky, which Musk said was” due to engine failures. “
About 27 seconds into the flight, SpaceX “lost” communications with another engine — an accident that occurred “with some kind of energetic event” that removed the heat shield around several other engines. Things “really hit the propeller” about 85 seconds into launch, when SpaceX lost “thrust control” — or the ability to steer the rocket.
Additionally, Musk reports that it took about 40 seconds for the AFTS (Autonomous Flight Termination System, which destroys the craft if it goes off course) rocket, which SpaceX will need to correct before its next launch attempt.
The strongest part of the missile’s performance was how well it held together, including passing through a launch milestone called “Max Q,” or the moment when atmospheric pressure is strongest on the missile.
“It looks like the structural margins of the car are better than we expected, as we can tell from the car already doing somersaults towards the end and still intact,” Musk said.
Looking to the future, Musk said SpaceX has “made a lot of improvements” on future prototypes. The company needs to make sure “we don’t lose control of the payment vectors” with the next launch.
Members of the public walk through a debris field at the launch pad on April 22, 2023, after the SpaceX Starship lifted off on April 20 for a flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.
Patrick T Fallon | Afp | Getty Images
Returning to Earth, Musk said the rocket created a “rock hurricane” under the rocket as it lifted off. While SpaceX hasn’t seen “evidence that the rock tornado actually damaged the engines or heat shields in a physical way,” Musk noted that the company “definitely didn’t expect” to destroy the concrete of the launch pad and create a crater in its wake.
“One of the most plausible explanations is that … we may have compressed the sand under the concrete to the point that the concrete effectively flexes and then cracks,” Musk said.
Musk said the priority on the next flight will be to start the 33 Raptor’s engines “faster and get off the podium faster.” It took about five seconds for SpaceX to start the engines and launch the rocket, which Musk noted was “a very long time to blow up the platform.” The company aims to cut that time in half in the next attempt.
A dust cloud grows under the Starship as the rocket launches on its Super Heavy booster from Texas on April 20, 2023.
The aftermath photos showed the violent outcome of the Super Heavy boosters. A report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the launch threw concrete and metal “thousands of yards” and created a cloud of dust and pulverized concrete that fell 6.5 miles from the launch site.
Musk said on Saturday that “the damage to the pillow is very minimal” and should be “quickly fixed.” He estimated that the necessary repairs meant that SpaceX would be “likely ready to launch in six to eight weeks.” SpaceX will replace some of the fuel tanks near the launch pad. The 500-foot tower is “in good condition”, with “no meaningful damage” though it was hit by “some large pieces of concrete”.
Musk believes that the biggest hurdle to flying again “is probably the rehabilitation” of the AFTS system that destroyed the missile, since it “took a very long time” to detonate it.
SpaceX is moving forward with a plan to place steel plates, which will be cooled by a water system, below the launch tower for the next Starship rocket.
Environmental activists and researchers have raised alarms about the cloud of concrete powder and dust created by the launch. Musk argued that the wreckage is “not toxic at all”, but said “we don’t want to do that again”.
“As far as we know, there hasn’t been any real harm to the environment that we’re aware of,” Musk said.
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