SpaceX’s recent test flight has reportedly caused significant damage to the rocket’s launch pad at Starbase Texas.
With more than 1,000 metric tons of propellant and twice the thrust of NASA’s Saturn 5 Rocket, SpaceX’s fully integrated Starship — the world’s largest and most powerful rocket — sent large chunks of concrete and debris into the air during Thursday’s test flight, ultimately blasting an enormous crater out of the launch pad in Boca Chica.
Starship’s 33 first-stage Raptor engines failed to melt the orbital launch mount during liftoff but completely obliterated the concrete base beneath, according to observations from SpaceX.
“Still early in analysis, but the force of the engines when they throttled up may have shattered the concrete, rather than simply eroding it. The engines were only at half thrust for the static fire test,” Musk tweeted on Saturday.
Despite Starship successfully clearing the launchpad and making it more than 20 miles above the Gulf of Mexico, an anomaly occurred just before stage separation that prompted the SpaceX team to activate the rocket’s flight termination system.
The Dallas Express attended the launch and spoke with some of its spectators.
“We’ve met people who have driven and flown in from all over the country just to see this launch,” test flight attendee Megan Wright told The Dallas Express.
“We met one couple who flew in from Pennsylvania and another family that drove their RV down from North Carolina It’s really an event for the whole family, and it’s something we’ll always remember,” she said, adding that she was “excited for the next launch in a few months.”
Although the rocket couldn’t complete its planned mission, Musk expressed enthusiasm about Starship’s first test flight and the data collected.
“Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months,” Musk said following Thursday’s launch.
Another spectator at the event shared a similar sentiment with The Dallas Express after the test flight.
“Everyone here [South Padre] was really happy to see the rocket take off,” South Texas resident Carlos Garza said. “Of course, you never know what to expect when it comes to an event like this — it can really go either way — but everyone seems to be pretty happy for Elon and SpaceX.”
“I imagine a lot of hard work goes into lifting a rocket the size of a 4-story building into the air. So, this really was a historic day,” he said. “I am excited to see what changes and what’s improved for the next launch.”
Repairing the launch pad is expected to take several months as SpaceX engineers work to reinforce the concrete structure against the force from the rocket’s ignition and liftoff.
Missing from Starship’s first test flight Thursday was a planned water deluge system, which would have helped cool the concrete launch pad as well as aid in absorbing shock and sound waves.
The deluge system was reportedly not going to be “ready in time,” with Space X engineers improperly estimating that the concrete launch pad would withstand the blast.
“[Three] months ago, we started building a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount. Wasn’t ready in time & we wrongly thought, based on static fire data, that Fondag would make it through the first launch,” Musk explained on Twitter.
In future test flights, the deluge system will be located beneath the rocket’s engines and will release large volumes of water onto the concrete, protecting launch pad hardware and preventing the rocket’s exhaust from damaging the structure and its surroundings.
Blast zone observations from MIT astronautics and engineering professor Olivier de Weck suggest that damages to the launch pad were much more significant than initially expected.
“The main damage to the launch pad is underneath, where the flames impinge on the ground,” de Weck said, per Yahoo News.
Still, Musk and his team remain undeterred by the damages to the launch pad. With a successful test flight under his belt and new data to consider going forward, Musk already has his eyes set on the next launch.
“Looks like we can be ready to launch again in 1 to 2 months,” he said.